An ever-smiling personality, Shikhar Dhawan wore a somber look about him as he got injured and had to be ruled out of the 2019 World Cup in the UK.
The look gave a peek into the level of disappointment and worry Dhawan carried. Disappointed, as he won’t continue after scoring a brilliant hundred against Australia and wouldn’t be there to help India reclaim the coveted crown. And worried, whether approaching the deeper side of his thirties, he will have another chance to aim for the trophy?
After the World Cup, India asked and answered this pertinent question themselves for Kedar Jadhav, a player who had proven quite effective with the utility he provided in either department but wasn’t going to be in prime fitness for 2023.
The sealing of Jadhav’s fate must’ve only increased uncertainty in Dhawan’s mind, as he was plagued by issues around form and injuries during that phase and saw someone like KL Rahul emerge as a strong candidate to partner Rohit Sharma at the top.
But the fact that India never posed that question to Shikhar Dhawan and kept patience says something about him and his stature within this team. Dhawan has earned that right with his performances at major events. The 2013 Champions Trophy hero, was also India’s highest run-getter at the 2015 World Cup, the 2017 Champions Trophy and looked good to do so at the 2019 World Cup as well.
Players yearn for that one big moment at the international stage, a moment their career is remembered by. Dhawan has had such moments spanned across four marquee events. You can’t question his knack of standing-up when the team needs him the most.
In between those marquee events, when teams have had the chance to target his weak areas – balls cramping him for room or moving away late after pitching, for example – over a lengthy bilateral series, Dhawan has at times been inconsistent. But with over 5,000 ODI runs to his name at an average of 45 and strike-rate above 90, it’s fair to say he has always found a way out.
Last year, when Australia came to India and it seemed India would be better served to continue playing Rahul and Rohit together at the top, Shikhar Dhawan produced knocks of 74 and 96 to silence his doubters, who felt his game against quality fast-bowlers is on the wane, declining significantly. Dhawan faced Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood through that series and did that commendably.
Unfortunately, he missed the following ODI series in New Zealand with an injury. For a player already out of the Test team, and facing question marks over his range in T20Is, missing games in his strongest format during a period where anyway India are playing fewer ODIs, doesn’t help Dhawan’s case at all.
The good thing that has happened for him through this phase is that India are now willing to relieve Dhawan of his misery in T20 cricket. It’s a version of the game which Dhawan has never really come to grips with, more so at the international stage, even though his IPL record is improving. Thus, it made sense for India to drop him at the start of the T20I series against England and immediately bring him back once the ODIs begin.
It also provides Dhawan with greater clarity on his future. A player like him will only take more confidence from knowing in which format he is playing every game for India. The confidence and assurity were evident in the way Dhawan batted for the major part of the ODI series opener against England on Tuesday (March 23). He didn’t get anxious despite an iffy and slowish start – which was understandable, given he has hardly played cricket of top quality since November – and looked in great control of his batting as he went deeper into his innings.
Dhawan eventually missed out on a well deserved hundred, but he did enough to show why India persist with him.
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