Under the Skanner: Shikhar Dhawan
- An attempt at deciphering Shikhar Dhawan's career so far. What are his strengths and shortcomings?
The search for future openers began when the famous pair of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag neared the end of their respective careers.
India always had a settled middle-order. With Virat Kohli piling up runs irrespective of the opposition, and knowing it was the experience of MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina that followed, the attention was on finding stable openers.
But the key opening slots always seemed half-filled as all the players who were tried at the top failed to impress.
Amidst this period of what seemed like a never ending search, the success of the highly-rated Rohit Sharma in ODIs at the top-order came as a huge relief.
The Mumbaikar finally seemed at home, and once he did, he started to show what he was capable of. However, the search did not end there.
Murali Vijay, who had cemented his place in Tests with consistent performances against quality opposition, was given ample opportunities in the limited overs format but was unable to make them count.
Ajinkya Rahane, another highly-rated Mumbai-based cricketer, was not able to seal his spot in the side either.
After a forgettable debut in ODIs, Shikhar Dhawan was sidelined and it seemed like it was going to be a long time before he got another chance.
But the left-hander stood his ground; he kept scoring runs at the domestic level and thus put pressure on the selectors to reward him.
There are some stories worth pondering over.
The return of Shikhar Dhawan to the international arena is one such story.
Tearing apart the world’s best bowling attack on your Test debut makes quite an event. Dhawan in his attacking innings, 187 from 174, showed that he was the player India were looking for.
Soon after his successful Test debut, Dhawan was drafted into the ODI side. This time, the left-hander did not let the opportunity go to waste.
He registered five hundreds in the year 2013 alone and has remained a key member of the ODI side from there on.
Shikhar Dhawan’s biggest breakthrough in ODIs came at the Champions Trophy in England in 2013, when he won the Man of the Tournament award.
He scored two match winning centuries in the tournament and formed a formidable opening pair along with Rohit Sharma. The duo has gelled well ever since and continue to provide solid starts in ODIs that the Indian middle-order so thrives on.
However, the southpaw hasn’t been at his best in Test Cricket of late. Following his historic Test debut, the Delhi lad has blown hot and cold and has found himself in and out of the side.
And as the young Karnataka batsman, KL Rahul has grown in stature with every game, Dhawan’s return to Test cricket has become a tough challenge.
But with both Murali Vijay and KL Rahul prone to injuries, Dhawan will always be in the close scheme of things, so he should be ready to go when he gets the chance.
Let us try and understand the strengths and weakness of this stylish left-hander in this article.
#1 Good against pace
That Dhawan has had two successful Champions trophies in England and a reasonable World Cup in Australia should validate that he is a quality player against pace bowling. On pitches with extra pace and bounce, he has come out on top against quality bowlers.
The opener is one of those modern day batsmen who like the ball coming on to the bat. Being a strong player on the offside, Dhawan likes to use the pace on the ball and play the ball late. It is easily noticeable that he scores a lot of runs behind point fielder on the off side.
The stylish opener is also very good against the short ball. In his hundred against the South Africans in the Champions Trophy 2013, he scored more than a quarter of his runs through pull shots.
#2 Critical on anything loose on off-side
There is a touch of Sourav Ganguly to every one of Dhawan’s cut-shots and square drives. Regardless of the form he is in, he will put away a loose ball outside off stump with the same class and authority. When in groove, the stylish batter is a sheer delight.
This gives very little margin for error for the pacers against Dhawan. Knowing that anything with width will see the other side the boundary line, bowlers are keen to keep it close to his body. This in turn, reduces the chances of a caught behind or edging it to the slip fielders.
#3 The conversion rate
One of the most impressive and valuable aspects of Dhawan’s game is that once he gets a start he makes it count. It is valuable because if he gets going invariably the middle-order batsmen get more freedom to express themselves.
He has been very impressive particularly in ODIs. Though he didn’t begin his ODI career very well, he has learned the art of building an innings and that has helped him better his numbers in the past few years. The opener averages a tad over 43 and has a decent conversion rate of 32.3 with 21 fifties and 10 hundreds in 85 innings.
#4 A big match player
The ability to score big runs in ICC events is what makes Dhawan special. While most of the batsmen struggle under the pressure of the occasion, Dhawan blossoms. He entered the ICC World Cup 2015 in Australia with not many runs in the games prior to the big event.
But the dashing opener delivered. His match winning hundred against the Proteas mirrors my argument. Also, in India’s chase of a mammoth total in the semi-final, he gave a scare to the Australians through his quick-fire fifty.
In Dhawan India have a reliable opener who could be the difference in crunch games. Players such as him are always an asset to a team.
#1 Moving ball close to off stump
Shikhar Dhawan’s recent failures in Test Cricket can be attributed to his struggles against the moving ball. Particularly overseas, Dhawan has found it hard to get going. Apart from a hundred against the Kiwis that came way back in 2014, the opener doesn’t have much to show for.
Because the white ball ceases to swing after the first few overs and the pitches are generally batting friendly, Dhawan has found it easier in ODIs. But his woes were clearly visible in England where he looked out of sorts against experienced English bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad. And the left-hander had a poor run in the following series against the Aussies as well.
However, you could argue that there are very few batsmen in the world who don’t struggle with the deliveries that are in the corridor of uncertainty. And it surely is under Dhawan’s control to find a solution.
#2 Struggles against off-spin
Dhawan doesn’t seem comfortable against the ball turning away from him. Particularly on wickets that assist spin, he has fallen prey to the off-spinners more often than not. However, he is a good player of spin when he is in his zone. We could expect him to overcome this minor flaw given the quality he has.
Despite averaging over 43 in ODIs and 38.52 in Tests, the Delhi batsman has found himself in and out of the national side. This is because of his inconsistency. For long Dhawan has been a batsman who scores a hundred and then goes through a lean patch. And KL Rahul’s impressive run hasn’t helped his cause.
Often Dhawan has failed to cement his place whenever he was given a long run and has had to wait for opportunities after being dropped. At 31, he would feel that age is not on his side so he should grab the next chance he gets with both hands.