“There is no otherworldly solution to his struggles. They are there with him in the way he plays his cricket”
He is the second highest run-scoring opener, just behind his co-opener Rohit Sharma, in the ODIs since the final of that auspicious Champions Trophy of 2013 which started it all – the pairing of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan as an opener in limited overs cricket. He is also India’s most successful bet in the multi-nation tournaments averaging more than 52 for his tally of 1831 runs in the said tournaments since the start of Champions Trophy 2013. And here he stands today, amidst frowning reactions and raising questions over his form, with a smile writ large on his face (as is usually the case when he gets out cheaply) but deep down in his heart, he knows that he is in the middle of a rut which is taking him nowhere while bringing down peril on his place in the team.
Now, a natural question arises, how bad is the rut? Well to start with, Dhawan averages just under 27 runs an inning for his 376 runs from 15 innings since the Asia Cup last year. He has been found to be particularly vulnerable against the off-spin bowling against which he averages a meagre 20.20 in the last 12 months. So, to take our question further, is it that bad to put a question mark on his place in the team? The answer to this question remains a big and a certain NO.
Dhawan may not have been in the best of forms in the last five months or so but he is too capable a player to understand it first-hand that he needs to deliver big when he feels in the right touch. In the fifteen instances mentioned above, he got to the 20-run mark on nine occasions. Clearly, he is getting starts and almost every time, he shows a promise of a big knock but then it seems as if his inner demons take control of him to leave that promise in flames along with a blotting failure against his name.
For a batsman from the subcontinent and that too of his calibre, it is particularly intriguing that he struggles against the off-spinners. But it is not the only chink in his armour. Amidst his regular struggles against the offies, one can easily fail to notice his dismissals against the left-arm pacers who have accounted for him on six out of the fifteen times that he has been dismissed since the Asia Cup last year. While Trent Boult’s left arm pace was his nemesis on the New Zealand tour, it was Jason Behrendorff who troubled him in Australia.
Cricket, like many other sports, is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. If one is troubled mentally then it gets reflected in his on-field returns which will undoubtedly paint a sorry picture of disappointment only. Something similar is happening with Dhawan. The thoughts of the off-spinners having a wood over him must be crossing his mind as soon as the opposition captain brings one into the attack. Such thoughts are perfectly fine because he is also a human being and to get concerned for something undesirable happening consistently over a period of time is human nature.
What is needed for him is to control such thoughts from taking over completely because that’s when susceptibility breeds. It leads to indecision in the approach which ultimately proves fatal for survival. An LBW dismissal can be an off-shoot of an indecisive approach and Dhawan seems to be harbouring one, as he has been dismissed by an off-spinner on three occasions in his last 15 innings and all three have come through an LBW call.
So, how can he control his mental side of the game? The answer is by learning on the go and adapting accordingly. What did Virat Kohli do to counter the moving ball in English conditions? He batted well outside his crease to reduce the extent of the movement, a move which paid rich dividends for him. Some similar tweaks can be implemented by Dhawan in his approach. Tweaks like coming down the track more often to unsettle the spinners or standing outside or very deep into the crease to negate the left-arm pacers, which helps in covering the movement of the ball, can be pressed into the batting approach.
There is no otherworldly solution to his struggles. They are there with him in the way he plays his cricket. He looks at his best when he allows the ball to come to him rather than rushing into the stroke which regularly results in the long walk back to the pavilion. He is experienced enough in the know-how and utility of these nuances of batting and will surely be raring to end this ongoing rut. It’s really good that he has got a captain who backs his players’ skills to the hilt as a rock-solid support system is the foundation stone of building a great team. Hopefully, Dhawan chalks his learning (and improving) curve accurately in the remaining three ODIs so that India can get their old ‘Gabbar’ back.