Shikhar Dhawan’s willingness to change his T20 approach and his subsequent output warrants a chance for him to be in India’s T20 World Cup 2021 XI, argues Rupin Kale.
IPL 2021 might’ve been suspended at its halfway point, but Shikhar Dhawan made a strong statement in the tournament.
31 games into the competition, the left-hander was its most prolific batsman with 380 runs at 54.28, struck at a rate of 134.27. He hit three half-centuries in seven innings, including a 92. The numbers are significantly better than his career average and strike rate of 35.29 and 127.35 in the IPL.
What’s promising is that the impressive stats aren’t restricted to this edition alone. Let’s take a look at his recent development in the shortest format, alongside the factors that might affect his selection in India’s T20 World Cup XI.
Shikhar Dhawan’s T20 overhaul in the IPL
Before 2018, the opener’s strike rate had never crossed 130, while he averaged over 38 in just three out of 10 seasons. There has been a distinct improvement since then.
Dhawan’s IPL strike rate has been 134 or more in every season from 2018. The stark contrast between the two sets of records makes the change even more admirable. Additionally, he has maintained that strike rate while scoring 450+ runs every season, apart from 2021, where he scored 380 runs in just seven games. Additionally, his average has dipped below 38 just once in five seasons.
With the T20 World Cup taking place in India this time, Dhawan’s IPL exploits cannot be overstated.
Big tournament pedigree
While Dhawan’s record in the T20 World Cup isn’t great – 74 runs in seven innings at 10.57 – it would be unfair to judge him entirely based on that. Firstly, it offers a very small sample size. Additionally, these performances came in the 2014 and 2016 editions, long before his T20 reinvention.
For instance, he scored 689 runs at 40.52 and a strike-rate of 147.22 in T20I cricket in 2018. It remains the highest tally achieved by an Indian batsman in a calendar year.
Additionally, he becomes a different player in multi-team tournaments. Since becoming an ODI regular, Shikhar Dhawan has arguably been India’s most reliable player across ICC events. Competitions like the World Cup, Champions Trophy and IPL tend to bring the best out of him.
While skipper Virat Kohli recently declared that Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul will be India’s first-choice openers, it may not hurt them to experiment a touch. Rahul has done well as a floater in the 50-over format and with India struggling to find a versatile, yet reliable middle order player in T20Is, he could be a handy option down the order.
Dhawan and Rahul have been T20 powerhouses over the last couple of years. Ideally, both should make the World Cup XI.
The problem with being underrated
The new and improved Shikhar Dhawan in T20 cricket is just as underrated as he was in ODIs a few years ago. Despite consistent performances, he had to prove himself time and again for fans and experts to finally take note of him.
The left-hander being underrated worked in two different ways. It helped India considerably in ODIs, as the opposition focused on bigger names like Kohli and Rohit, with Dhawan going under the radar to produce match-winning performances. However, being underrated also puts the scanner on the player after a few bad performances. Dhawan might not have the cushion of being a big name, despite coming up with the goods consistently over the years.
He remains an underrated player in some aspects even today, at least in the shortest format of the game. His IPL numbers are astonishing – second-highest run-scorer of all time, second-most fifties, most fours and a trophy. Despite these feats, he is hardly featured in the “best batsman in IPL history” debate.
In his own words
The most inspiring aspect of Shikhar Dhawan’s T20 story is that he saw a problem, took the time to understand it and is on track to fix it with a change in approach.
“It was a conscious effort from my side and I started taking more risks. I’m not afraid of changes,” he told reporters during IPL 2021.
“I’m always open towards changes and I make sure I give it a good try in the nets and then in the games. 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.”
The essence of sport is merit and competition; striving hard to build that merit and rising above the competition. Hence, it is crucial that positive change is rewarded.
The focus should thus shift from a past knot to its solution today. Shikhar Dhawan deserves a chance to make that happen with his T20 international career.
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