ICC World Cup 2019: What makes Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni such devastating batsmen in one-day cricket

The plan to pair Sharma and Dhawan at the top came up first at the 2013 Champions Trophy. They struck an instant understanding, with the left-right combination unsettling most opposition.
File image of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan(AP)
File image of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan(AP)
Updated on May 16, 2020 06:35 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Mumbai | By

Champions Australia plumbed the depths before gathering themselves to promise a strong challenge heading into this World Cup. England, who did not make it past the group stage in 2015, did their own rebuild, finding a new, brawny approach to emerge as favourites this time around.

India has travelled a down a different path; since their semi-final exit in 2015, they have been a picture of consistency. Four of the top six who were part of the batting line-up Down Under make up the core this time as well. Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli are richer in experience, and, with tons of runs under their belt, brimming with confidence. And even though Mahendra Singh Dhoni has moved into his 37th year, he is a rejuvenated soul and has rediscovered his top gear. (Complete coverage of ICC Cricket World Cup 2019)

India also pack a punch in the lower order with Kedar Jadhav at No 6 and Hardik Pandya at 7.

Top of their game

Kohli will bank heavily on Sharma and Dhawan. Sharma has the big-game temperament. He will bide his time, raise the tempo gradually, and finish off games with booming hits.

Dhawan has an even more crucial role to play simply because he is the sole left-hander among the specialist batsmen. With most teams looking to attack the batting line-up with a leg-spinner, a long innings from Dhawan can make all the difference in negating the threat.

Dhawan also works best when confident; he has a tendency to produce a series of big scores once he finds his groove.

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Conversely, if he has a couple of bad starts, it can snowball into a bad tournament for him.

There is no stop-start in his game. The two big tournaments he played in England are perfect indicators. In the 2013 Champions Trophy, he had a sequence of 114, 102*, 48, 68 and 31. In the 2017 edition, Dhawan’s run was 68, 125, 78, 46 and 21. The Delhi Capitals batsman got into that long-streak mode in this IPL, which augurs well for India.

Kohli’s confidence in the opening combination also stems from their impressive record in English conditions. The plan to pair Sharma and Dhawan at the top came up first at the 2013 Champions Trophy. They struck an instant understanding, with the left-right combination unsettling most opposition.

Their ODI careers took off—Dhawan hadn’t scored a hundred until then but has 16 now in his bag. Sharma has added 20 to the two he had till then.

India’s top three can now blow any team off the pitch. One performance that exemplifies the fear they can put in bowlers is their batting in the 2016 ODI series in Australia. India lost the first four ODIs, but Sharma (2x100), Dhawan (1x100) and Kohli (2x100) combined to produce exhilarating cricket.

“It’s a dynamic batting unit. Not just Virat, each one has won matches on his own. Rohit, Dhawan and Dhoni have done it, and Pandya too a couple of times,” says Anshuman Gaekwad, India’s coach when the last World Cup was held in England, in 1999.

Dhoni, redefined

In contrast to the top-order is MS Dhoni’s story. He is now the flavour of Indian cricket, but in the matches where Sharma and Co were toying with the Australian bowling, Dhoni’s batting appeared a chore. He had lost his timing and power, his ability to chase down daunting totals with calm deliberation.

After a series of sluggish innings, the inevitable question surfaced: was it over for Dhoni?

The team stood firmly behind him. The first signs of him sorting out his game came at practice before the second ODI of the 2016 series, at Brisbane. As Dhoni huffed and puffed at the nets, coach Ravi Shastri stood at silly point, crouched in concentration. As Dhoni finished, Shastri gave him a five-minute talk.

ALSO READ: ‘No one better than him in this format’ - Shastri on Dhoni

Dhoni switched to the adjacent net for another session. Something had changed. He had found his timing.

“Ravi told me to maintain the shape in whatever stroke I played,” Dhoni revealed later. Rather than trying to muscle into a shot in desperation, to go back to the basics, let his body and bat work as one unit.

There were other weaknesses to sort out, and Dhoni worked at it diligently. Those who have watched him closely point to better bat swing, a wider range of shots, better shot selection, and clarity of mind. The fixed template of trying to settle down before taking off has been discarded. If the first ball is in the slot, he smashes it. It led to consistent knocks for Chennai Super Kings and then for India in the 2018 limited-overs series Down Under, where he controlled the game.

As seen in this IPL, he’s added to his range of strokes. He no more favours the leg side. For deliveries outside off, even at his peak, the instinct was to drag them to hit in the arc between long-off and straight fence. Now, he bludgeons them over extra-cover. The square-cut used to be hit in the air, now he gets on top of the bounce.

To the four

India though have work to do in the warm-up games. The No 4 slot remains a weak area. The challenge will be for batsmen in form to cover up for that hole in the middle.

There will be temptation to use Dhoni at 4, but he is best suited at No 5, a pivotal position in one-day cricket, believes Gaekwad.

“At No 5 you have to cement the game; steady the innings in case of a batting collapse. India’s top three are not going to change their style. Dhoni has the ability to build a partnership under pressure by constantly engaging with his partner,” he says.

With Hardik Pandya in roaring form, there will be assurance for Dhoni to play in his calculated way.

Though KL Rahul is in as a back-up opener, he will be India’s best bet at No 4 due to the limited options available. “We still have to fix No 4. Hopefully, it will be settled in the warm-up games. Rahul is a flexible player, and has the experience. If India lose an early wicket, we should have Rahul at No 3, Virat at 4. If there is an opening partnership, then Virat goes at 3. You don’t want to lose both Rohit and Virat together,” says former chief selector, Dilip Vengsarkar, who has played two World Cups in England and has three Test centuries at Lord’s.

Under Shastri and batting coach Sanjay Bangar, the mantra has been ‘feel at home wherever you travel’. Since the last World Cup, Indian batsmen have embraced it, hitting 26 centuries in ODIs outside India.

Smart slog

Power hitting is not India’s strongest suite, and they make up for that by playing smart cricket in the death.

This is why Kedar Jadhav is valued so highly; though injury prone—he has just recovered from a shoulder injury—his ice-cool approach is key to tackling those nerve-wracking final overs. A fine example was how playing for CSK, Jadhav outsmarted Mumbai Indians’ pacer Mustafizur Rahman in the final over of 2018 IPL’s opening game. Having retired hurt due to a hamstring niggle, he returned at the fall of the ninth wicket. With seven needed off six balls, he played out three dot deliveries before going down on one knee and scooping the fourth ball from right in front of his nose over fine-leg for six. The next delivery, he stood on one leg and drilled through the off-side for a famous win.

Unfinished business

At a time when the young Sharma was seen as Indian cricket’s next big thing, he failed to make it to the 2011 World Cup Team, which India went on to win. It is a heartbreak he has still not come to terms with. Instead, it was another young sensation who was picked ahead of him—Kohli.

It proved to be the turning point of Sharma’s career, says his childhood coach Dinesh Lad. “He took that to heart and after that whatever he did, he never compromised on his practice. He started to give more time to cricket.”

Rohit is 32 now. This may be his last shot to heal those 2011 wounds.


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