To avoid World T20 berth pangs, Shikhar Dhawan turning it on in IPL 2021
Shikhar Dhawan scored more runs on the leg-side on way to a match-winning 92 against Punjab Kings in IPL 2021.
“Shikhar, sweeping spinners I can understand. Now started to sweep fast bowlers too? 140, 145 doesn’t really matter? How did you develop this shot?” Ravichandran Ashwin’s question was on everyone’s mind post a Shikhar Dhawan-special on Sunday night.
The left-handed opener had just helped Delhi Capitals chase down 196 against Punjab Kings with 10 balls to spare. Dhawan scored 92 (49b) with the majority of those runs coming quite uncharacteristically from the on-side. It was the second time that Dhawan scored over 80 in three matches, taking him on top of the IPL 2021 run tally after Sunday’s games. More importantly, Dhawan has never looked this aggressive in his IPL career. His best-ever IPL strike-rate of 163.15 this season --- it was 144.73 last term --- is proof.
It was, however, not all brawn and no brain for Dhawan against Punjab. “Once I knew that the opposition bowlers are bowling yorkers or wide Yorkers --- they have set up the field where it is hard to find a boundary on the offside --- I tried to use the pace. I enjoy doing that. I enjoy playing those cheeky shots, the sweeps. I keep trying it in the nets and I get success in the match as well,” Dhawan told Ashwin after the match.
Target World Cup
The 35-year-old Dhawan knows he has to think out of the box in IPL 2021. He has rarely failed to impress in the T20 league – since 2016 Dhawan has never tallied below 475 in a single season – but this time the question is: with a T20 World Cup in six months, is he good enough for a place in the Indian T20I XI.
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Opening slots in the Indian T20I squad is a congested place with Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, now Virat Kohli and even Ishan Kishan. Dhawan is the oldest of the lot and if he plays in the T20 World Cup he will be the most senior member of the squad.
Over the years, Dhawan’s T20 and T20I career strike-rates have looked almost identical – 125.65 and 127.41 respectively. In an Indian team that has “anchors” in Kohli and Sharma those numbers aren’t in sync with the current trend of giving the team a fast start. It meant that Dhawan was dropped from the XI after just one match in the recent India-England T20I series.
So, mere runs alone won’t do Dhawan any favours this IPL. According to Cricviz, at the start of this edition, Dhawan took 26.8 balls per six. It is far behind other regular openers Sharma (15.1) and Rahul (16.7). But on the other side, 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 is far better than Kohli (8.28), Mayank Agarwal (8.11), Devdutt Padikkal (7.74), Prithvi Shaw (7.59), Sharma (7.44), Rahul (7.37). Dhawan wants to build on that this edition.
Pull most productive
Dhawan has always been a terrific off-side player with the ability to pierce the field with cover-drives. But against Punjab Kings on Sunday, the pull was his most productive shot as he scored 24 runs (5x4s) with it. His wagon wheel showed 60 out of his 92 runs were scored on the on-side. It showed in the way Dhawan hit his first six of the match. After reaching the half-century in 31 balls (he hit eight fours en route), Dhawan used the pace of Jhye Richardson in the 10th over and scurried him over deep square-leg.
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Are we seeing a new avatar of Dhawan? “It was a conscious effort from my side (to increase SR) and I started taking more risks. I am not afraid of changes. I am always open towards changes,” Dhawan said in the post- match presentation ceremony where he was adjudged the Player of the Match.
Dhawan was bowled in the 15th over while playing a high risk shot off Richardson as he moved across to push the young right-arm pacer’s slower delivery past square-leg. “I am not scared of getting out as well,” Dhawan said. “I have worked on the leg-side shots, coming in the crease, using the pace of the bowler. Depends on who’s bowling and what plans I make for them. My slog shot has improved. It was there before as well, but now it’s (more frequent). I am very relaxed these days. If I am not relaxed this time, then when? I’m relaxed but also attentive.”
This was Delhi’s last match at the Wankhede Stadium and the team will now play in Chennai where the ball may turn a bit more. Dhawan knows that he might not be able so many slog shots at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.
“The Wankhede pitch has got a true bounce and the ball comes at a nice pace. Because of the dew also it gets much easier for the team batting second. For my batting style, I enjoy using the pace of the ball and against a spinner, if it's not turning, I can play my slog sweeps, but I have to be a bit mindful of when I am going to play in Chennai,” he said.
“I have been seeing on TV that the wicket is turning and is a bit slow. I am already preparing for it and looking forward to playing against them and grabbing the opportunity.”
With no clarity on how many T20I matches India will play before the World Cup, Dhawan would need to do that.