Shikhar Dhawan's T20 World Cup omission more about India team philosophy
- Teeing off from the start is the team mantra as Virat Kohli targets his first ICC trophy as skipper in the Oct-Nov tournament.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) has been a platform for many players to make their mark. It is now an established route to the Indian team and good performances in the T20 league could mean a call-up for any of the three formats, not just the shortest.
Yet, in a curious reversal of this progression, Shikhar Dhawan, the top-scorer of the current season of IPL - set to resume in the UAE on from September 19 - finds himself kept out of India’s T20 World Cup squad. The World Cup will start October 17 at the same venue as the IPL.
The left-handed opener will resume the IPL as the one with the Orange Cap, with 380 runs at 54.28, struck at a strike rate of 134.27 for Delhi Capitals. He has hit three half-centuries in eight innings, including a 92.
Since the World Cup is in the UAE, Dhawan would find his omission doubly disappointing. Last season’s IPL was played entirely in the UAE - Dhawan was the second highest run-getter with 618, behind only KL Rahul, who is an integral part of the World Cup squad.
Dhawan averaged 44.13 then, and more importantly, got those runs at a strike rate of 144.73. It’s not just that he has been good, he has been better than he has ever been - the numbers from the last two editions are significantly better than his career average and strike rate.
Why is he not in the World Cup squad then?
The first reason is the sheer level of competition for the openers spots - with Rohit Sharma and Rahul doing great things for India in T20s and Tests in that position, Dhawan would always have been the backup option.
The second reason is the changing nature of the game, led by England’s explosive approach where batters begin their innings with big hits without the need to settle in.
This is where Mumbai Indians’ young dasher Ishan Kishan fits in perfectly.
While Kishan has had a poor run so far in IPL 14, in the earlier season he finished with 516 runs at an average of 57.33 and a strike rate of 145.76 with four half-centuries.
The numbers look similar to Dhawan’s and they are both left-handers, but there is a key element here that the numbers don’t show. Kishan hits from the start and hits big; Dhawan has a more conservative approach. Kishan smashed 30 sixes to Dhawan’s 12 while the Delhi Capitals opener hit 67 fours to Kishan’s 36.
Kishan may be averaging just 14.60 in five matches in IPL 14, but he underlined his daredevil style in the two knocks he played on his T20I and ODI debuts - 32-ball 56 against England and 42-ball 59 vs Sri Lanka.
Where the veteran batsman has an edge over Kishan is that he knows how to convert the starts into big scores. In IPL 13, he became the first batsman in tournament history to score two successive hundreds. Even in the current IPL, Dhawan has a 92.
Dhawan can play aggressively but he has never been the most powerful striker. After getting set, there is a pattern that he will look to build on. There’s value in both styles. It’s about what the team management is looking for. For Capitals, Dhawan’s style of play is perfect. It also works because they have the explosive Prithvi Shaw at the other end to provide the early impetus.
For all the success of Kohli-Ravi Shastri, India have been caught short in ICC tournaments. Kohli wants to ensure they don’t have any weak areas this time. Improving the strike rate of the top order was identified as one area.
The Indian team management demanded a change in approach before the five-match 2021 T20 series at home against England. On the eve of the opening game at Ahmedabad, Kohli talked about playing “aggressive cricket” with a “free mind” with players who have the “X-factor”. He wanted his batting unit to go hard from the word go. It was about taking more risks, being more adventurous, converting even good balls into scoring opportunities.
“How England are playing, that’s how all teams will have to play,” Hardik Pandya said.
T20 teams don’t look at the eventual strike-rate of a batter anymore because most of them will accelerate towards the end. It’s those who go hard from the outset that are worth their weight in gold.
In the T20s versus England, when all the players were available, Dhawan lost his place in the playing XI. Kishan opened with KL Rahul in the second T20I before Rohit Sharma returned to the side. Even when Rahul struggled to adjust to the new demand, forcing India to try out a new combination, Kohli decided to open with Sharma.
Dhawan is 35, but he has not lost any of his hunger for the game. 2020 and 2021 have been the best so far in his 13-year IPL career because he is still willing to try new things.
“It was a conscious effort from my side and I started taking more risks. I’m not afraid of changes,” he told reporters earlier this year. “I’m not scared of getting out. I’ve worked on the leg-side shots, coming in the crease, using the pace of the bowler.”
For Dhawan, there’s no better way to respond to his World Cup omission than by continuing with his run spree when the IPL resumes.