India vs England – India Need Dhawan – The Aggressor At The Top Of The Order
India will persist with their reserve opener Shikhar Dhawan for the second T20I against England in Ahmedabad too. Having already announced that their star opener Rohit Sharma will be rested for the first couple of matches, the think tank led by Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri has no choice but to play the left-hander. This, despite being thrashed by the number one team in the world in the first match of the series and after clarifying that India’s first choice openers in the format were the duo of KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma.
Given that Dhawan will play the match India needs to ensure that they get the best version of the southpaw. There are two versions of Dhawan the batsman in limited overs cricket – the aggressor and the accumulator. While India has been blessed with Dhawan the attacking and destructive stroke-player in the 50-over format where he is one of the most accomplished batsmen in the format’s history, the left-hander hasn’t quite got the returns for the country in the 20-over format. And the reason for that could be ‘approach’ more than skill or ability!
Dhawan has an average overall record in T20I cricket having scored 1673 runs in 63 innings at an average of 27.88 and strike rate of 127.41 with 11 fifties. There has been just one calendar year in which he has been excellent in the format. Dhawan aggregated 689 runs in 17 innings at an average of 40.52 and strike rate of 147.22 registering 6 fifties in 2018.
However, his form dipped since 2019 and he has managed to score just 441 runs in 18 innings at an average of 24.5 and strike rate of 114.24 in the last couple of years – these are poor returns for a top-order batsman. More than the runs he has scored it is the sluggish strike rate which is the problem for Dhawan post 2019. He gave glimpses of his destructive prowess in a couple of innings in 2020 – against Sri Lanka in Pune and Australia in Sydney (52 off 36 balls in both the innings) – but such knocks have been few and far between.
Dhawan has not done for India what he did for Delhi Capitals in the latter half of the team’s campaign both in 2019 and 2020. In both the editions he started off slowly playing the role of the anchor but suddenly switched gears mid-way into the tournament.
26 in 16 deliveries against KKR, 34 in 31 deliveries in a 162-run chase against SRH (DC fell short by 15 runs), 35 off 27 deliveries against CSK, a duck against KXIP, 32 off 28 against RCB and 5 off 4 against the Royals – Dhawan was playing in the shadow of the more flamboyant Prithvi Shaw in the first 6 matches of the tournament in IPL 2020. He aggregated a total of 132 runs off 108 deliveries at a strike rate of 122.22. He was happy to play within himself and was not looking to press the accelerator and up and ante in the powerplay.
But suddenly a third into the tournament he changed gears and went from accumulator to aggressor. Dhawan went on the rampage and hammered 486 runs in the next 11 matches at a strike rate of 152.35. This transformation was one of the stories of IPL 2020 and the major reason for the success of Delhi Capitals in the season.
Interestingly, Dhawan’s batting approach had followed a similar trend and pattern in the last edition in 2019 too. Dhawan had scored just 152 runs at a strike rate of 116.03 in the first six matches in IPL 2019. He was putting pressure on the middle order with his sluggish approach which was affecting the Capitals’ adversely. And then it all changed mid-way into their campaign. Dhawan slammed 299 runs at a strike rate of 151.01 in the six matches in the latter half of the tournament.
The question remains why can’t Dhawan produce his attacking best from the beginning of a tournament and why can’t he produce the same when playing for his country? The answer to both the questions is inter-linked.
For Delhi Capitals in 2020, Dhawan 2.0 only came out once Prithvi Shaw started to fail in the tournament. The left-hander then took upon himself to provide the impetus at the start of the innings. He assumed the role of the aggressor. It seems he follows a similar approach for India. When Rohit Sharma or KL Rahul are going great guns at the other end, Dhawan likes to play second fiddle and settle into the role of the anchor. Some of his best performances for India have come when Rohit has been dismissed early or is a touch out of sorts at the other end.
For the larger interest of the team, Dhawan needs to get out of this mindset. India need Dhawan the Aggressor right from the beginning of every series and every tournament. Delhi Capitals need Dhawan 2.0 from the start of a season. There is no place for Dhawan the Accumulator in T20 cricket and definitely not in the new strategy adopted by the Indian think tank for the World T20 in October. Irrespective of how Rohit or Rahul are batting at the other end, Dhawan needs to bat just one way.
If Dhawan can get his best version out for India in whatever opportunities he gets in this series, he may well reserve one of the opener’s slot for himself instead of being a reserve opener.