Shikhar Dhawan. Pic/AFP
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Less than four years ago, when Shikhar Dhawan, seeming to defy mortality, hit his third World Cup century to set up India's magnificent 36-run victory over the then defending champions Australia, none could dare to look beyond him for the opening setup. This was his 17th overall hundred in the ODI format, and by this time, he had already become a raging white-ball force.
But how good was he? In the ten World Cup matches that he has featured so far, Dhawan amassed 537 runs at an average of 53.70 with three hundreds under his belt. Having been ruled out of the 2019 edition after only two matches, the two-time ICC Player of the Tournament rose to prominence once again with a match-winning century against Australia at The Oval.
Dhawan made his ODI debut in 2010, after which he accompanied the team on a couple of India-A tours abroad, particularly to the West Indies. But nothing reaped dividends, runs were hard to come by. Even in domestic first-class cricket, he failed to gather the requisite number of runs to throw the Indian openers off their perch - not until they collapsed themselves.
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But giving up was not an option for India's very own âGabbar'. In March 2013, Dhawan, in his Test debut against Australia, smashed a belligerent 187 off 174 balls with 33 boundaries and two sixes against an attack that comprised Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon and Xavier Doherty. His brutal 85-ball 100 was the fastest by a debutant and powered India to a six-wicket win in Mohali.
That innings in Mohali will always be a reminder of his mental strength. It is not an easy task to dust off heartbreaks on the field and pick yourself up again. But Dhawan did it umpteen number of times and pounced on the second chance with all his might.
Cut to present, Dhawan is yet to play an ODI this year, after having last represented India in the format in December 2022 against Bangladesh. He failed to excel in the three-match series, managing to score 18 runs in total. With youngster Shubman Gill taking over the realms of ODI cricket alongside captain and batting mainstay Rohit Sharma, Dhawan's comeback plans are in a spot of bother. Gill's staggering numbers in ODI cricket back up that claim quite emphatically. His pinpoint consistency with the willow made him firmly cement his place at the top of the order.
Gill added 624 runs from nine games to his name, at a stunning average of 78 and an exceptional strike rate of 117.5, including a double ton against New Zealand. Dhawan, on the other hand, on a comparative view, amassed 688 runs from 22 ODI he played last year at a below-par average of 34.4. The drop in his strike rate from 93.8 before 2022 to a lowly 74.2 was particularly noticeable.
Interestingly, Gill kicked off his opening stint in ODIs alongside the very man whom he has now replaced. In fact, in their first four instances of opening the innings together, the duo registered three century stands, with their overall opening stand average standing at 76.2 from 11 innings in total. Throughout last year, Gill blossomed as Dhawan's form dipped. Yet, a little hope never hurts.
"They (Rohit and Dhawan) have both done a brilliant job together. I think in world cricket they are third or fourth (sic: fourth highest in ODIs as an opening pair) and Rohit believes that if someone is consistently performing or has done really well over the years, you can't just discard him. Rohit definitely gives you that cushion and it's a good thing, kyunki ICC events ki baat karein toh wahan pe thoda experience zaroor chahiye," former India cricketer and the member of IPL Governing Council, Pragyan Ojha was quoted as saying on Glance. Honestly, Dhawan might not be the dashing hero that we Indians see in Kohli or Rohit. But can we dare to deny that he has given the team some amount of stability when it was in dire straits? Certainly not.
Dhawan's approach towards cricket is based on the old-fashioned principle of keeping your wickets till the end, and then stepping on the gas. In his best years as an ODI batsman, the 37-year-old did his best to frustrate the opposition before he launched a sudden attack.
Indeed, there is a saying that a player's mistakes tend to be more memorable than their achievements. This adage rings true in the case of Dhawan.