With New String on His Bow, Dhawan Takes Aim at T20 WC Berth
Once criticized incessantly for his slow strike rate, Shikhar Dhawan is now bossing the game.
Shikhar Dhawan has picked up from where he left in IPL 2020. The ace opener racked up 618 runs in 17 innings in the previous edition held in the UAE where he also added a unique feather to his cap as he slammed consecutive IPL hundreds, the first player to achieve the feat.
Dhawan has hit the ground running in the ongoing season as well and is perched at top of the chart with 380 runs in 8 innings at an exceptional average of 54.28. For a player who has, in the past, copped an earful from pundits and fans alike for his sluggish strike rates, Dhawan’s development makes for an interesting case study.
Dhawan Cracks the Strike-Rate Code
T20 cricket is not everyone’s cup of tea. In the slam-bang version of the game, how quickly you get runs is equally as important as how many you get. Acceleration was never Dhawan’s strongest suit. It was an area where he lagged so far behind that he often invited upon himself the scathing label of a stat padder. However, the tide has turned since the 2019 IPL season.
To put his growth into perspective, Dhawan’s strike rate of 123.24 in 148 innings before IPL 2019 has soared to a healthy 147.73 in the 30 innings he played from that point.
So what brought about this sudden shift in dynamics? The transformation is down to Dhawan’s better game awareness, improvisation and innovation in shot-making and robust fitness levels.
Plugging the Loopholes
Dhawan has always been a fierce cutter of the ball, but he struggled to get going when not given the room to free his arms. In this day and age of video analysis, it wasn’t rocket science for the oppositions to figure out that Dhawan is cramped for room when bowled at pace into the ribs. Moreover, the slog-sweep, a stroke that came so effortlessly to him, seemed to be showing signs of rust. He wasn’t able to get the desired elevation or distance and ended up finding the man on the fence.
The southpaw identified the chinks in his armour and worked tirelessly to restore his leg-side flourish. Practising lap-scoops and pulls to underarm throwdowns has become a part and parcel of his warm-up routine. And the results are there for the world to see.
In the northern derby against Punjab Kings on 18 April, the pull was his most productive shot, fetching him five boundaries and an overall tally of 24 runs. His wagon wheel displayed that a sizeable 60 out of his 92 runs were scored on the on-side. In what was his first six of the match, he clubbed Ravi Bishnoi flat over cow-corner and went on to get his 50 with a carbon copy of that maximum.
Traditionally an alumnus of old-school cricket, Dhawan has been more than willing to shed his conservatism and adapt to the rigours of T20. He is no longer averse to experimentation, be it ramping deliveries from wide of the off stump over fine leg’s head or pulling out the unorthodox reverse-sweep from his repertoire. Dhawan is ticking all the boxes, and is slowly but surely turning into a all-rounded, street-smart batsman who knows his limitations and has figured out a way around them to fit the bill in the shorter format.
Speaking in the post-match presser after his brisk 92 off 49 balls powered Delhi Capitals home against PBKS, Dhawan stressed upon the need to evolve. "It was a conscious effort from my side. I knew I had to improve on that (strike rate). Started taking more risks. Not afraid of change, always open for it. Not scared of getting out as well. Have worked on a few shots. My slog shot has improved a lot. It was there earlier as well, but now I play it more freely. I'm more relaxed, having played for so many years. I don't take things for granted,” Dhawan said.
Dhawan Stakes Claim to T20 WC Team Berth
Dhawan is making all the right noises at a very opportune time. The T20 World Cup is around the corner and India is still stuck in the audition phase, trying and testing various players in a bid to optimize the squad balance. They, at least, had their opening slots sorted before the England tour with KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma forming a formidable pair at the top, but the former’s string of poor scores in the T20 leg has thrown the debate open yet again.
To make matters worse, Rahul is having to act as the binding glue to PBKS’ batting order and his tendency to bat through the innings has messed up with his free-flowing instincts. That’s not to say Rahul is not amongst the runs anymore. In fact, he has aggregated 331 in 7 knocks this season. It’s just that the spark has gone missing. He has been at the receiving end of trolls for playing at a sedate pace and not living up to his potential. A certain Rahul punching below his weight coincides with Dhawan’s rise in stature as a T20 enforcer, which plumps his case for opening duties come the mega event.
As fans lovingly call him, Gabbar has the statistics in his favour too. According to CricViz, Dhawan (8.50) has the second-fastest run-rate in the powerplay over the past two IPLs (among batsmen who have played a minimum of 10 innings). He has the edge over Virat Kohli (8.28), Mayank Agarwal (8.11), Devdutt Padikkal (7.74), Prithvi Shaw (7.59), Sharma (7.44), and Rahul (7.37).
What also must be taken into account is that Rahul may remain out of action in the near future as he is set to undergo surgery to cure acute appendicitis. And upon completing rehab, it will take him a while to rediscover his mojo.
With the coronavirus pandemic at its peak, it’s safe to say that there is going to be a modicum of international T20 cricket in the build up to the World Cup later this year. So, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to call IPL the be-all and end-all for players to cast an impression on the selectors and book a berth in India’s roster for the T20I WC. And Shikhar Dhawan, the Orange Cap holder, is leaving no stone unturned to make the cut.
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