It was May of 2013 and the month had begun with a surprise for Indian Cricket fans. There was no place for the marquee opening duo of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag in the Indian squad for the ICC Champions Trophy, scheduled to commence in June. Instead, the selectors trusted two, though not so young, but unproven openers for the mega event – Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan.
Rohit was in the side since 2007 but trusting Dhawan, who had not played a single ODI for 2 years, for the tricky job, raised many eyebrows, especially when it came at the cost of his Delhi teammate Gautam Gambhir, a much proven and seasoned player. The move to open with Dhawan worked wonders right away as he eased his way for a fluent 114 off 94 balls in the tournament opener, following it up with another century in the next game against the West Indies. The doubts and questions were put to rest. The two knocks somewhat turned out to be a precap on how he would react to the thrown challenges in his future career.
Back to the Present
Fast forward to Jan 2022 and playing Shikhar Dhawan in ODIs, despite performing nicely in his limited opportunities, is not considered a no-brainer anymore. With the emergence of Ruturaj Gaikwad and Prithvi Shaw among many other talented openers, it’s now getting difficult for the Delhiite southpaw. In fact, he himself was a threat for a veteran player in his early days.
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Shikhar Dhawan, who is known for his chill yet go-getter attitude knows a thing or two about performing in pressure games. Since the start of 2020, he has amassed 756 runs in the 14 ODI inns at an astonishing avg of 58.15. He has played most of these knocks while playing for his spot in the side.
Rising up to the Challenges
He had a point to prove in the first ODI between India and England in March last year. Being squeezed in the XI by accommodating KL at No.5, the stakes were high for Dhawan before the series opener. Unsurprisingly, he came out of the match with flying colors, scoring a well-compiled 98, falling 2 short of a well-deserved century.
The pressure was high in the Mohali ODI between India and Australia too. After managing the scores of 0, 21, and 1 in the first 3 ODIs, his form was a point of concern considering the fact that it was the World Cup year (2019). He replied to the critics in style, scoring a smooth 143 off 115 balls, 90 of which came through the boundaries.
His knack of hitting it out of the park in the pressure games isn’t limited to only Internationals, but in the IPL too. After being traded in by Delhi Capitals in the year 2019, he didn’t have the best of the starts as he accumulated only 152 runs from the first 6 games at a less than decent strike rate of 116. With stakes high again, he came out to bat in the seventh game with better and refined intent. He didn’t return to the dressing room until achieving the target, scoring a well-paced 97 off 63 in the process. From that game onwards -which turned out to be a turning point in his IPL career – his strike rate in the remainder of the season read 145.84, much improved and better than the 116 in the first 6 games.
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Not to forget that he is one of the most improved T20 batsmen of India in the last 2 years. It reflects from his IPL numbers of that period – 1205 runs, 41.55 Avg, 134.18 SR. The strike-rate of his is better than that of KL Rahul, believed by many as the best T20I player in the world. His exclusion from the squad for T20 WC 2021 is a different debate altogether.
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The recently concluded ODI series between South Africa and India, began with Shikhar Dhawan yet again finding himself under the pressure. The challenge to score runs while reacting as if he doesn’t know any other method for them, compiled a top-scoring 79 in the very first game, following it up with scores of 29 and 61 in the remaining 2 games, eventually ending the series as India’s highest run-scorer. In the process, he stamped it further and stronger that challenges are anything but worth conquering for him. The form shown by him was a major positive for the visitors in an otherwise disappointing series.
Keeping the 2023 World Cup in the hindsight, many were hesitant about his place on the side, considering his age. However, the top-scoring act in the series was enough of a reminder that he has still got a long way to go in the ODIs and is all set to play a crucial role in the World Cup.
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