“If India are eyeing to defend the title, they will need the openers to fire with all cylinders with the middle-order being a little vulnerable. For Dhawan, he would be looking to replicate his magical performance in the remainder of the series”
After the drubbing in England, India were off to UAE for the Asia Cup in a quest to defend their title. With the centre of attraction being the fifth game of the tournament between arch-rivals India and Pakistan, the former side’s opening game against Hong Kong didn’t garner enough attention. Despite a spirited performance from Hong Kong, India managed to win the game by 26 runs to seal a berth in the next round. With India playing two back-to-back games in as many days, they opted to rest a few key players for the contest against Hong Kong in the scorching heat of UAE.
The high-voltage encounter against Pakistan turned out to be a one-way traffic as India romped home with another emphatic victory. Their openers started off on a brisk note in both the games. Shikhar Dhawan’s parched runs column in England did raise a lot of questions on his spot in the Test line-up and the pressure was only mounting, but he has always been a champion white ball player. Asia Cup was always going to be his zone, but it was important for him to rediscover his lost rhythm after the miserable form that he was in back in England. Although a different ball game, but the confidence of a batsman takes a massive beating after having a poor series, but Dhawan was not going to get bogged down and proved his worth once again in ODIs.
India easily have the best top-three in the world, their top-order has been prolific and the team has banked heavily on them. With Virat Kohli being unavailable for the series, the onus of scoring big runs had automatically transferred on the openers. To add to their woes, India’s middle-order is still uncertain and have been mediocre in the recent times.
Dhawan looked in good touch right from the outset in both the games, but converted his good start into a big one against Hong Kong. At times, a batsman does underestimate the bowling and ends up gifting his wicket away. It doesn’t matter what bowling attack one is facing, getting to a century requires a lot of focus and temperament. Dhawan knew this was his opportunity to capitalize and get over the dismal run he had in England. It was pivotal for him to find his form for the rest of the tournament as he has been one of the vital cogs in India’s shorter formats.
With the help of 15 boundaries and two sixes, Dhawan scored a match-winning 127 off 120 deliveries against Hong Kong. He didn’t let it go after an odd 50 or 70. He sensed an opportunity and ensured he grabbed it with both the hands. This conversion was very important, something which he has been doing quite effectively in shorter formats. Dhawan stitched a crucial 116-run stand with Ambati Rayudu and looked the most unflustered from the Indian dugout. He was awarded Player of the Match award for this valiant outing. The importance of Dhawan innings came into light when Hong Kong threatened to chase down the target, but Indian bowlers applied brakes to their run and carried the team over the line.
Against Pakistan, there was absolutely no pressure on India in the run-chase, their bowlers did a magnificent job in restricting the star-studded side to a modest total of 162. It turned out to be a cakewalk for India as they won the game by eight wickets and 21 overs to spare. Rohit Sharma and Dhawan set the stage for a successful run-chase with some elegant stroke-play against the new ball. Dhawan looked absolutely untroubled and scored a brisk 46. He looked good for another big score, or a fifty at least, but it wasn’t to be. He cut a short delivery outside off straight to point that ended his good run.
Talking about numbers, Dhawan now averages 46.54 in ODIs where his Test numbers revolve around 40. A lot was expected out of him in England, but the attacking southpaw failed to deliver. The match against Hong Kong was very important for his confidence as an opener, and he continued his good form against the lethal attack of Pakistan as well.
The arch-rival had a dominating pace attack, especially the new ball bowlers, but Dhawan didn’t find any difficulty and played his shots. The story might have been different had he not scored heavily against Hong Kong, which infused confidence in him. India-Pakistan games are high-voltage ones, there is intensity and the passion is on another level altogether. Fans and followers from both the sides have high expectations from their superstars. With Pakistan beating India in the Champions Trophy final last year, the rivalry had only revived. But India gave a testament to their supremacy with a complete performance and will now be the team to beat in the tournament.
For India, Dhawan finding his lost mojo is no less than a boon in the absence of Kohli. If India are eyeing to defend the title, they will need the openers to fire with all cylinders with the middle-order being a little vulnerable. For Dhawan, he would be looking to replicate his magical performance in the remainder of the series.