Ever-evolving T20 format poses threat to Dhawan’s template

Ever-evolving T20 format poses threat to Dhawan’s template

The threat of rain that loomed large over Mohali’s opening encounter of IPL 2023 eventually came to spoil the party and rob the clash between Kolkata Knight Riders and Punjab Kings of a deserving climax. Nonetheless, the hosts wouldn’t be complaining despite the abrupt end and the multiple power failures which stretched the contest longer than required without complete action.

Despite not having three of their best players available, and losing the toss on a pitch that had a bit of moisture in it following persistent drizzle over the last couple of days, PBKS managed to secure a narrow 7-run win (DLS Method) to kickstart their campaign. The foundation of the victory was laid by an 82-run partnership for the second wicket by Shikhar Dhawan and Bhanuka Rajapaksa, which came off only 54 balls and helped the hosts amass 191 for 5 on a surface that was far from its best.

While Bhanuka teed off, playing the dimensions of the ground en route a brisk 32-ball 50, Dhawan played quite a Dhawan-esque knock. When he was dismissed for a 29-ball 40, Punjab Kings were already in the 15th over of their innings with 143 runs on the board. A few cuts, a pull and a deft opening of the blade to pick up six boundaries in an otherwise dour innings where he allowed his batting partners, starting from Prabhsimran Singh, to play the role of the aggressor.

“Shikhar and I wanted to bat as long as possible and the plan was for me to keep attacking and Shikhar would play the role of the anchor,” Rajapaksa said of the plan with his partner. “We knew when and whom to target. It eventually helped us to get a big total on the board.”

It was only a week ago, in an interview with Aaj Tak, that Dhawan had candidly admitted that if he was the Indian selector, he would play Shubman Gill ahead of himself in the national team.

The honesty or the humility of the confession doesn’t really matter. Any other response would’ve been indigestible. It’s not just Gill, even the likes of Ruturaj Gaikwad, Prithvi Shaw and Ishan Kishan have surpassed him in the pecking order for the second opener’s slot in India’s T20 side.

It’s not because Dhawan’s form has dipped. In fact, he has remained one of IPL’s most consistent run-scorers. Having been a part of the tournament since the inaugural season, he has averaged 35.11 at a pace of 126.41. Since 2011, never has he averaged less than 27 in a season. Yet, his strike rate has touched the 140 mark only twice. If anything, there has been a minor improvement on both counts in recent years.

However, in a tournament that has sky-rocketed careers – not only in T20 cricket but also percolating to all other formats – Dhawan has failed to ride that wave. In the ever-evolving format that has increasingly demanded the death of the innings-builder, Dhawan’s methods haven’t raised his stocks despite a mountain of runs.

His methods work in certain settings. Like it did with David Warner in Sunrisers Hyderabad for many seasons, where the duo repeatedly provided big, strong starts to a batting line-up that otherwise remained their weak-link.

At other times, such an approach proves counter-productive. Ricky Ponting, the head coach of Delhi, minced no words when he criticized Dhawan’s pace after DC’s loss to CSK in 2019, and further stated that it added burden on the incoming batters to accelerate with the required rate soaring beyond the comfort zone. He even had a personal chat with Dhawan, explaining to him the need to alter his approach. The result was that the southpaw not only had his most aggressive season in IPL, but also his most productive, where he outpaced his partner Prithvi Shaw en route Delhi Capitals’ road to their maiden IPL final.

But the onus of the success of such partnerships lie on the striking form of the aggressor. In the success with Warner, it was his partner who was also amassing runs consistently, but also at a significantly faster pace (striking between 140 to 156 across four seasons) as compared to Dhawan (116 to 127). On Saturday, it was Rajapaksa, whose explosion allowed Dhawan to play his natural game.

The left-hander played second fiddle in four partnerships. Even though PBKS won playing what could possibly be their weakest XI this season, it was only a narrow victory margin. With nothing to lose for KKR in the death overs, who were playing catch-up for most of the run-chase – the possibility of the contest swinging in favour of the opposition wasn’t too far-fetched.

Dhawan hasn’t displayed too many shades to his IPL batting beyond the 29-ball 40s over the years. In a team with an explosive, power-packed middle order, it remains to be seen if his complementary style fits in well or does it become a burden especially with the Impact Player rule allowing a longer list of batters in the line.

© Cricbuzz

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