Shikhar Dhawan gives a grand start to Delhi Capitals in IPL 14
Shikhar Dhawan is in the illustrious group of batsmen who have become masters of the white-ball cricket. He has made eyes pop out, flaying the bowlers of all variety and deployed the blade to hit stunning and innovative shots. Especially so in the form of the game and in a popular tournament with an acronym IPL, which has received a groundswell of support from the regular fans and has appealed to the unacquainted some twelve years ago. The IPL began in 2008.
Such has been the terrific impact of the Twenty20; thanks to buccaneering batsman like Dhawan, who has carved his own niche and holds a pride of place among the Twenty20 and IPL icons like Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, David Warner and Rohit Sharma who have breached the 5000-run mark in the league, and other achievers with the bat like A.B. de Villiers, Chris Gayle, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Robin Uthappa who are in the cusp of the coveted big aggregate. A couple of good seasons, and they will join the echelons, if not already.
True to his approach and style of play, Dhawan took the centre stage in a jiffy, opening for Delhi Capitals (DC) against three-time champions, Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the VIVO-IPL-14 second match at the Wankhede Stadium last Saturday (April 10).
The pitch was fresh and a featherbed, but the last year’s finalist, taking the field without its nominated captain and swashbuckling batsman, Shreyas Iyer, was set an asking rate of 9.45 an over under the lights. The Capitals faced an uphill task, but Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw outsmarted the CSK bowling, short on pace, and made short work of the stiff target of 189 runs to win.
Dhawan is accustomed to lash out, and has a strike rate of 7.5 an over in the league, which is considerably lower than his partner, Shaw’s strike rate of 8.5 plus in the league. Against CSK, Dhawan lifted his strike rate to a high of 9.45, significantly less in comparison to Shaw’s strike rate that ended at 11.37 an over. The joint high strike-rate though, achieved as an outcome of the brutal hitting by the left-right combination, eventually paved the way for the Capitals to surpass the target with eight balls to spare.
On the face of it, Dhawan’s 42nd half-century in the league appeared to be carrying on from the ominous form he was in, in the off-shore IPL last year in the Emirates. Dhawan had made 618 at 44.14 in 17 matches; his best so far in 14 seasons of the league.
He has begun the new season with a well calculated 85 off 54 balls with 10 hits to the fence and two over the line. He showed a full range of shots, but what caught the attention of the fans, teammates, and opponents alike was his courage and ability to employ the horizontal bat sweep shots off the medium-pacers.
After the Capitals’ made a winning start against CSK, Dhawan said he practices the shot in the net sessions. “Without practicing, I don’t bring a shot into a match. I have to play shots according to the fielding positions set by the opponent. I was happy Rishabh (Pant) won the toss. It was a sticky pitch and good to bat second. Not only my performance was good, the team also won. I am very happy with the outcome of the first match.”
Now conscientiously focused on the two short forms of the game, Dhawan has been extremely consistent even before making the move from the Hyderabad franchise (Deccan Chargers and Sunrisers) for which he turned out for 113 of the 177 league matches. His aggregates in the last five seasons in the league has been: 501 in 2016, 479 in 2017, 497 in 2018, 521 in 2019 and 618 in 2020. His two centuries, both came about last year in the Gulf.
Dhawan revealed there is only one way to play Twenty20 and that’s going after the ball. “There is no change in my approach. I have been playing like this for a long time. I have been scoring runs with a good strike rate. I have been consistent and always look to improve wherever I can. I am happy, I am enjoying my game. “
Elaborating further he said: “I have been playing like this for three years. I just keep on refining my skill set; that’s the mindset I have. That I am aggressive is visible now. I am sure you are going to see me like this only. This version of the game demands that (style of play) and I am sure I am going to play like that. “
Dhawan is 35 and at the crossroads of his chequered career. He is keen to impress the selectors and reinforce faith in India captain Virat Kohli that he would be useful for the men in blue team for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup to be held in India in October-November this year.
After England speedster Mark Wood beat him for pace in the first Twenty20 international at the Narendra Modi Stadium on March 12, 2021, Kohli did not consider the left-hander again for the rest of the five match series. Dhawan has scored a 36-ball 58 in the second Twenty20 match against Australia at Sydney last December. Kohli has gone on record saying that Rohit Sharma and K.L. Rahul have better credentials to open for India, but he chose to open with Sharma, after Rahul came a cropper in four matches.
The odds, it appears, are against Dhawan to win a place in the Indian team for the Twenty20 World Cup, but he is a left-hander and a repeat of last year’s form in the ongoing IPL would keep him in the basket for the selectors to pick from. Dhawan’s record in 65 Twenty20 Internationals is far from impressive at 27.88, but in such a short format, form matters a lot, and it would be interesting to see where the likes of Dhawan, Shaw and Rahul end up in IPL Season 14 that has already seen a robust start.
Dhawan has come into the IPL with a string of good scores in the three-match one-day series against England played in Pune. He scored 98, 4, and 67 and won the man of the match award in the first ODI.
There is still some way to go for the next ICC (50-over) Cricket World Cup (2023) and a few more contenders would come into play. But with 5,977 runs from 142 ODIs and with an average of 45-plus, Dhawan, should he remain fit, could be a front runner to open the innings with Sharma. But as of now, his primary aim would be to excel in the IPL and stake his claim in the Indian team for the Twenty World Cup. The fearless Delhi Capitals left hander has the wherewithal to have another successful IPL season.