Shikhar reinvents to stay on top
The most pleasing aspect of Shikhar Dhawan's rise in international cricket has been the way he has adapted to the new conditions in one-dayers.
The two new balls being used in ODIs lays an emphasis on specialists as openers. Dhawan, enjoying a purple patch since his breakthrough Test debut against Australia in Mohali in March, seems to have hit the all right notes.
His opening partnership with Rohit Sharma was the bedrock of India's victory campaigns in the Champions Trophy and in the tri-series in the Caribbean.
The duo averages 51 in 13 innings with 663 runs together. Dhawan, unrecognisable from the batsman who made a horror start to his ODI career, has showed the right temperament to pace himself.
The conditions at the Harare Sports Club on Friday were the most challenging a top-order batsman could encounter in ODIs. The vast tree banks around the ground, the cool breeze in the morning due to the 9 am start and the two new balls that afford swing for a longer period makes it extremely testing for the openers.
As in Tests, you need technically sound openers to nullify the new ball threat. From a batting perspective, it's about preserving wickets to provide a base to launch from in the Power Play overs.
During the second one-dayer, there was swing and seam movement in the first 20 overs as Kyle Jarvis and Brian Vitori exploited the conditions. India slipped to 65-4 and Dhawan was lucky to survive thanks to two dropped catches. He was also caught off a no-ball once.
Dhawan conceded it was testing times for an opener. "It's more difficult nowadays because you've got new balls from both ends," said the left-hander. "When the ball is swinging you really need to play close to your body. You'll see that in the first ten overs openers are not scoring that many nowadays because the ball is new and it swings a lot. You have to be more careful." Dhawan, since his comeback, has scored 631 runs in 12 innings averaging 57.36.
Shot selection has become a key area. While Rohit, not a regular opener, has done reasonably well in the makeshift role and has the right technique, his temperament has let him down while Dhawan has played without fear.
"Shot selection is very important. Because you don't want to lose wickets at the start and put pressure on the rest of the side," said Dhawan.
For India, the Zimbabwe series is an opportunity to explore other options. Thus it would be important to give Cheteshwara Pujara or Ajinkya Rahane a chance to open with Dhawan in the last three ODIs.
Pujara, yet to make his ODI debut despite establishing himself as a Test batsman seems an ideal candidate. He has the technique as well as the temperament.
India are not known to tinker with winning combinations. But with a 2-0 lead against a lowly Zimbabwe, if they want to know their next best for the job, then it is imperative they give Pujara and Rahane a shot in Sunday's third ODI.