Nobody has played more men’s ODIs for India in the past two years than Shikhar Dhawan. In 2021, a year where the number of 50-over matches was scarce, Dhawan played six ODIs. This year, the left-handed opening batter has again led the way by playing 22 out of India’s 24 ODIs. Nine of those have been with the 37-year-old as captain.
With less than 12 months to go for the 50-over World Cup on home soil, it seems as though India see Dhawan as integral to their plans. While he is not part of the Test or T20I team any longer, he has been a vital part of the ODI set-up for almost a decade now, forging an opening alliance with Rohit Sharma that has yielded enormous success. For much of the past two years though, the 50-over format has ranked least on the priority list. As a result, Dhawan has often been part of a 50-over side where most of the first-choice players have been rested.
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With ODIs assuming foremost importance once again, as coach Rahul Dravid made clear before the Bangladesh series that India lost 1-2, should Dhawan continue accompanying Sharma at the top of the order with Virat Kohli at No 3?
The Indian team management’s view on this will tell us how serious it is about revamping India’s approach in white-ball cricket.
Dhawan, of course, brings a wealth of experience with him, having scored 6,790 runs in 166 ODIs at an average of 44.37. But like India found out in the T20 World Cup in Australia, there’s a pressing need to look for more than just consistency and solidity in limited-overs cricket. With a top-3 of Sharma, KL Rahul and Kohli, there was always the apprehension that the sameness in method will prove costly. It turned out to be the case.
India are likely to be making the same mistake if Sharma, Dhawan and Kohli line up at the top in the 50-over World Cup. And it isn’t as if there aren’t any alternatives.
A timely reminder of his credentials was offered by Ishan Kishan on Saturday, bludgeoning his way to the fastest double ton in ODI history with an innings of 210 off just 131 deliveries. The caveat that this was a dead rubber on a flat track aside, Kishan’s gung-ho approach was entirely in sync with the evolving demands of the game.
It was just one innings from Kishan, but contrast his strike rate of 160.3 on Saturday to Dhawan’s pedestrian 74.21 in 2022. It is the lowest by any Indian batter in ODI cricket since 2008. Having consistently struck at over 90 from 2016 to 2021, the Delhi opener’s numbers have plunged alarmingly over the past 12 months, returning 688 runs in 22 matches at an average of 34.4. He has struck all of seven sixes this year, a tally that was surpassed by Kishan with 10 sixes on Saturday alone.
Kishan’s blitzkrieg against Bangladesh was impressive on multiple counts. Most of all was his intent in the middle overs of the innings, a phase that can get monotonous if you stick to the conventional template of saving wickets for the final ten overs. But Kishan’s inherently attacking game manifested itself in spectacular style, smashing 177 runs from overs 11-40 and ensuring that they don’t just go through the motions in that middle stage.
Kishan probably wouldn’t have played the game if Sharma had been fit, which reinforces the explosive ability that India possess but don’t put to use on a regular basis. Can someone like Dhawan still do what Kishan did on Saturday?
Perhaps not, based on recent evidence.
The challenge for Dhawan is that he plays just one format for India now. It means he is not competing at the highest level with the frequency that he once used to. It certainly gives him the chance to recharge his batteries, but staying in prime shape becomes that much harder. Dhawan said as much during the recent New Zealand tour.
“It depends on how an individual thinks. I see it as a blessing because I get off-time and I stay fresh. But it has its own challenges as well,” said Dhawan. “I make sure that I keep myself in that groove so that I don’t stay behind the game. Whenever I enter, I have to be (in sync) with the pace of the team. Otherwise, I will be left behind.”
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