India in South Africa 2013-14 December 2, 2013

Less strike, more success for Dhawan

Shikhar Dhawan has the uncanny knack of appearing dominant while, the stats show, facing as few balls as possible. Perhaps his ability to deftly manoeuvre the strike during tricky periods is something that has contributed to his fine run
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At a promotional event in Mumbai, after the elongated home season had ended and before the shortened tour of South Africa, Shikhar Dhawan was asked the obvious question. "There will be seam, swing and bounce in South Africa. How will you handle it?" Dhawan reportedly gave his moustache an extra twirl, a bit like how Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar's character does in Rowdy Rathore every time he faces a crisis, and said, "Indian players now have the belief that if they can perform against them [fast bowlers] in the IPL, they can surely perform against them while playing for India as well."

It does sound like a bit of Bollywood bravado, but under the twirled 'tache and tattooed triceps, behind those square drives and punches, could be a sly batsman who is more Boycott than Bollywood, more Gavaskar than Guevara. The statistical sample from the 23 ODIs since Dhawan restarted his ODI career is not exhaustive but is big enough to spot a trend.

During the five centuries Dhawan has scored in ODIs, he has spent 1161 deliveries at the wicket but faced only 525 of them. Virender Sehwag is a similarly attacking batsman, but during his 15 ODI centuries he has faced 1573 balls out of the 3111 spent at the wicket. That's a difference of about five percentage points. During his first hundred, in Cardiff against South Africa, Dhawan had faced only 94 balls when he got out in the 38th over. During his most recent, against West Indies in Kanpur, he fell in the 38th over again, having faced 95 balls. Overall, since his comeback to the ODIs in June earlier this year, Dhawan has spent 2464 legitimate deliveries at the wicket, facing only 1167 legitimate deliveries of those. These are striking statistics for a batsman who likes to dominate.

Or for any batsman. Cricket is a game of periods of relative inactivity followed by high activity and concentration, and then inactivity when you switch off. If you are a part of the opening act, you don't want to be at the inactive end for too long. You want to feel the ball on bat, get the nerves out of the way, gets a sense of rhythm. This is when Dhawan has shown a tendency to stay far away from the action. Dhawan has lasted 10 overs in 14 of his 23 ODI innings since his comeback, which gives him a maximum of 840 balls in a period when the ball tends to misbehave. But he has faced only 380 of those deliveries, which is 80 fewer than his partners, and still appeared dominant. If you can't have bowl at me, I won't have to leave them aloneā€¦

Dhawan's Test career is only three innings old, but he has shown a similar tendency to watch from the non-striker's end there too. He has taken 236 of the 517 balls he has spent at the wicket in Tests. To not get pinned down on strike is a quality classical batsmen such as Gavaskar and Boycott proselytised as they dug their trenches, but it is remarkable for a boundary-hitter such as Dhawan. He somehow finds a way to stay away from the strike, and still manages to score at a quick rate. He will make a good kho-kho player - an Indian sport where you can be eliminated only when you are active, where you can be made active only when someone passes the activity on to you, and where you have to be quick to run and pass that activity on to someone else once you have been made active.

There is another important facet to this tendency of Dhawan. Commentators will always tell you an attacking batsman should not be denied strike lest they lose their rhythm. Dhawan must laugh at that, because he doesn't seem to be affected. It must give him time to keep twirling the moustache because when he reveals it after reaching a milestone it is stiff, betraying no signs of having broken a sweat.

It might be too early to say whether these stats are just the effect of his opening partners - Rohit Sharma in ODIs and M Vijay in Tests, who tend to get stuck before making up with big hits - or whether Dhawan is shrewd with the single, but in his young career he has managed to reduce the chances of his getting out early in an innings. South Africa will obviously bring his biggest test yet, with the seam of Vernon Philander, late swing of Dale Steyn and awkward bounce of Morne Morkel, but there is a good chance Dhawan might be watching the best of the deliveries from the non-striker's end.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • POSTED BY manpan on | December 4, 2013, 11:10 GMT

    The logic in this article is not clear to me: (1) if Dhawan faces less deliveries it means that his non-striker batsmen are not good at rotating strike (2) if Dhawan strike rate and average in all his innings are good; how can one conclude that he avoids getting out early? Attacking style is always more risky than spending the time at the crease playing dot balls (3) it would have been a little more logical if the author has provided the stats of run-outs batting with Dhawan. Those stats would have served as Dhawan's desperation to avoid strike.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2013, 11:04 GMT

    It's an interesting line of thought but the argument is not well rounded. The logical flow of argument should have warranted an analysis of his partners stats - esp. Sharma's & Kohli's. A para on how poorly his partners rotate the strike (Sharma) or how much better (Kohli) they do, would have placed the argument in context; though there is a passing reference to Rohit Sharma's phases of "digging in". Also, if he is quick with his singles, and his partner does not give him the strike back quick enough, am not sure how it translates to the first party being characterized as "sly". The fact that the article does not draw reference to his 248 in S.Africa (even as an exception) in order to point out an outlier, does not sound good, especially coming from Sid Monga.

  • POSTED BY Naresh28 on | December 4, 2013, 7:05 GMT

    I hope Robin Uthappa can work on his game and come in as an opener one day. A recent article gave details on how he has been putting the hard yards to get his game in shape. India needs a better player to partner Dhawan as opener, Vijay is the current but we will have to wait and see.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2013, 6:59 GMT

    real test of indian team awaiting at SA tour. it will show the real talent of big names in the team.hope they wont repeat of what happened at the england tour last time.

  • POSTED BY Sultan2007 on | December 3, 2013, 21:32 GMT

    Its a pity that this is such a short series. I for one, am really looking forward to it. Its an exciting and fearless Indian side which will learn immeasurably from this experience. Posibly they wont win; but that is fine. I expect to see some heartening performances that will set up this team for the future. England has peaked and will shortly have to start investing in a new crop of players; as will South Africa. Australia are buliding, but struggling to find quality batsman. India is the team with exciting talent coming through.

  • POSTED BY on | December 3, 2013, 17:31 GMT

    Shikhar, you start from zero. For all your ODI and 187 from this year, remember this - you are in South Africa, away to the world's best team. You'll be facing Dale Steyn, a fast bowler who can not only bowl fast but also bowl really, REALLY well. Like Malcolm Marshall well. So, keep your head down and play sensibly. n A 38 off 115 balls is sometimes VERY VERY valuable because it softens the opposition attack.

  • POSTED BY on | December 3, 2013, 17:08 GMT

    Put the analysis, the nit picking and personal preferences aside. This is a match winning side led by a master captain; a team that can stand toe to toe with any side of the world. Please allow this team and its members to show their talents and provide for an entertaining series. So enough of the dissection, just sit back and enjoy the games.

  • POSTED BY on | December 3, 2013, 16:57 GMT

    I dont think Dhawan plans on facing lesser number of balls as such. He is an attacking batsman by nature, who doesnt like dot balls. He either scores a boundary or takes a single. And his dot ball percentage is quite low. And another factor accounting for Dhawan facing lesser number of deliveries is his partner at the other end. Both Rohit and Vijay are slow starters who like to take their time in the early stages of the game and tend to either leave or play out the initial balls and Dhawan is forced to watch from the other end. Its not exactly a strategy but whatever it has augured well for the Indian team.

  • POSTED BY on | December 3, 2013, 11:18 GMT

    @icfa Well said! There is no logic in persisting with Vijay who has time and again showed that he is not made for international cricket.

  • POSTED BY on | December 3, 2013, 11:08 GMT

    @gsingh7 You are commenting as if you are looking into a crystal ball...only time will tell though! But making such comments without any cricketing logic does not make any sense. I do not know about Rohit (who incidentally has a weakness at groping at balls leaving him) but for sure Kohli has shown ample proof of his abilities.

  • POSTED BY manpan on | December 4, 2013, 11:10 GMT

    The logic in this article is not clear to me: (1) if Dhawan faces less deliveries it means that his non-striker batsmen are not good at rotating strike (2) if Dhawan strike rate and average in all his innings are good; how can one conclude that he avoids getting out early? Attacking style is always more risky than spending the time at the crease playing dot balls (3) it would have been a little more logical if the author has provided the stats of run-outs batting with Dhawan. Those stats would have served as Dhawan's desperation to avoid strike.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2013, 11:04 GMT

    It's an interesting line of thought but the argument is not well rounded. The logical flow of argument should have warranted an analysis of his partners stats - esp. Sharma's & Kohli's. A para on how poorly his partners rotate the strike (Sharma) or how much better (Kohli) they do, would have placed the argument in context; though there is a passing reference to Rohit Sharma's phases of "digging in". Also, if he is quick with his singles, and his partner does not give him the strike back quick enough, am not sure how it translates to the first party being characterized as "sly". The fact that the article does not draw reference to his 248 in S.Africa (even as an exception) in order to point out an outlier, does not sound good, especially coming from Sid Monga.

  • POSTED BY Naresh28 on | December 4, 2013, 7:05 GMT

    I hope Robin Uthappa can work on his game and come in as an opener one day. A recent article gave details on how he has been putting the hard yards to get his game in shape. India needs a better player to partner Dhawan as opener, Vijay is the current but we will have to wait and see.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2013, 6:59 GMT

    real test of indian team awaiting at SA tour. it will show the real talent of big names in the team.hope they wont repeat of what happened at the england tour last time.

  • POSTED BY Sultan2007 on | December 3, 2013, 21:32 GMT

    Its a pity that this is such a short series. I for one, am really looking forward to it. Its an exciting and fearless Indian side which will learn immeasurably from this experience. Posibly they wont win; but that is fine. I expect to see some heartening performances that will set up this team for the future. England has peaked and will shortly have to start investing in a new crop of players; as will South Africa. Australia are buliding, but struggling to find quality batsman. India is the team with exciting talent coming through.

  • POSTED BY on | December 3, 2013, 17:31 GMT

    Shikhar, you start from zero. For all your ODI and 187 from this year, remember this - you are in South Africa, away to the world's best team. You'll be facing Dale Steyn, a fast bowler who can not only bowl fast but also bowl really, REALLY well. Like Malcolm Marshall well. So, keep your head down and play sensibly. n A 38 off 115 balls is sometimes VERY VERY valuable because it softens the opposition attack.

  • POSTED BY on | December 3, 2013, 17:08 GMT

    Put the analysis, the nit picking and personal preferences aside. This is a match winning side led by a master captain; a team that can stand toe to toe with any side of the world. Please allow this team and its members to show their talents and provide for an entertaining series. So enough of the dissection, just sit back and enjoy the games.

  • POSTED BY on | December 3, 2013, 16:57 GMT

    I dont think Dhawan plans on facing lesser number of balls as such. He is an attacking batsman by nature, who doesnt like dot balls. He either scores a boundary or takes a single. And his dot ball percentage is quite low. And another factor accounting for Dhawan facing lesser number of deliveries is his partner at the other end. Both Rohit and Vijay are slow starters who like to take their time in the early stages of the game and tend to either leave or play out the initial balls and Dhawan is forced to watch from the other end. Its not exactly a strategy but whatever it has augured well for the Indian team.

  • POSTED BY on | December 3, 2013, 11:18 GMT

    @icfa Well said! There is no logic in persisting with Vijay who has time and again showed that he is not made for international cricket.

  • POSTED BY on | December 3, 2013, 11:08 GMT

    @gsingh7 You are commenting as if you are looking into a crystal ball...only time will tell though! But making such comments without any cricketing logic does not make any sense. I do not know about Rohit (who incidentally has a weakness at groping at balls leaving him) but for sure Kohli has shown ample proof of his abilities.

  • POSTED BY gsingh7 on | December 3, 2013, 10:31 GMT

    dhawan and pujara will shine. kohli and rohit will fail . expecting bhuvi or shami to win india a game or two. no high hopes on ailing zaheer. ashwin will be exposed as flat track spinner by amla and duminy. jadeja is surprise package. india needs bhajji and shreesanth like performance to win the test series, just like last time.

  • POSTED BY Ayas on | December 3, 2013, 8:14 GMT

    The real reason behind this is Dhawan finds gap more easily than Rohit or Vijay. So he gets off the strike, while others don't find the gaps that frequently & end up in facing more delivery. I don't think its a strategy of Dhawan to face less balls. It happens so bcoz others cannot rotate the strike easily. But if you can find the statistics of Dhawan & Kohli partnership, more likely you will find both facing similar number of deliveries.

  • POSTED BY Naresh28 on | December 3, 2013, 7:16 GMT

    The ODI's and practice game before the TESTS should reveal what order INDIA go in with the partner to Dhawan and the number 6 slot are open. I do have my doubts on Vijay - he is a patient player but whether he can negotiate the express pace is yet to be seen. The players who grab their chances on this tour will seal their spots as the second line of players like Aparajith, Samson, Rishi, Pandey, Aaron await ther turn. Shami has pushed his case as first choice - behind him there is Yadav, Ishant and Zaks.

  • POSTED BY crick_sucks on | December 3, 2013, 5:28 GMT

    I certainly agree with Sid's assessment of Dhawan. I too have noticed this quality in Dhawan and according to me it is a vital skill for the opening batsman. Save yourself from the new ball and make merry when the situation turns to your favor. Fortunately for Dhawan there is Rohit and Vijay at the other end, who as you point out, like to retain strike as much as possible. So Dhawan is a perfect foil for them. I would suggest to make Rohit-Dhawan the opening pair in both ODIs and Tests and leave out Vijay who is just not good enough for international cricket. It is a useless strategy to persist with Raina(ODI) and Vijay(Tests) as they have been found wanting on too many occasions on foreign conditions.

  • POSTED BY crick_sucks on | December 3, 2013, 5:21 GMT

    In Kho-kho, You don't get eliminated when you are active but you eliminate the opponents when you are active. There is a big difference in what you have written and the reality.

  • POSTED BY GrindAR on | December 3, 2013, 5:19 GMT

    guys dont you think it is too much cricket in a calendar year. It is good to have this concentration around this time of year, but it is the same round the calendar... is it not overwhelming?

  • POSTED BY ultimatewarrior on | December 3, 2013, 4:09 GMT

    These are very basic stats and derived from very few innings so they have more coincidence part instead of a strategy, also it is just because his partners in most innings are rohit sharma/virat kohli who initially starts with defensive game and than bang-bang.......

  • POSTED BY on | December 3, 2013, 3:28 GMT

    Dhawan undoubtedly is an attacking batsman but I don't think he plans his innings in such a way that he ends up playing lesser deliveries compared to his partners. If we go back by 4 months, in August, we perhaps remember his innings of 248 played for India A in a List A match against South Africa A team. He missed the all time score in a List A game by just 21 runs. (Yes, it was a flat track but you still need some skills to bat for that long on a flat deck) The noticeable thing is that he got out in the 45th over having played 150 balls. That shows his capacity to score big innings if he ends up getting majority of strike. I think he is simply on top of his game right now and thus should try to face as many deliveries as possible. More deliveries he end up playing, chances are that higher his score would be. The best part of his game is that he is fearlessly confident and failure doesn't affect him for long.

  • POSTED BY yoogi on | December 3, 2013, 3:20 GMT

    The statistics is a very hard to use tool. The whole point is that in most of the matches his partner is Rohit or a come-back Gambhir and these guys have been fighting their own battle of survival and hence didnt get to rotate the strike that easily. How he plays when he plays with kohli or Pujara is the real statistics. That might even reveal the weakness of his opening partners further.

  • POSTED BY Joe-car on | December 3, 2013, 3:16 GMT

    Of all the hundreds that I've seen Dhawan score, he was dropped at least once before reaching 30 and proceeded to give numerous chances after that too. I don't think he's quite the batsman the wickets he's played on have made him out to be.

  • POSTED BY couchpundit on | December 3, 2013, 1:11 GMT

    Expect Rohit to fail...Dhawan to be tested....Bowler to watch is Sotsobe?

  • POSTED BY IlMagnifico on | December 3, 2013, 1:03 GMT

    Difference of five percentage points in balls faced vs balls watched? Yawn....wake me up when you have *real* stats to report. Not a tortured set of numbers to prove a thesis you formed before looking up scoresheets.

    When you consider that Dhawan has been the junior partner at the crease in terms of experience, the paltry five percentage point difference is actually flies in the face of your premise.

  • POSTED BY pureaurum on | December 2, 2013, 23:33 GMT

    I think the comparison with Kho Kho is wrong. The "active players" who get to pass their active state to their team members are chasing the opponents to tag them out, they do not run the risk of getting out themselves.

  • POSTED BY Nampally on | December 2, 2013, 22:19 GMT

    Dhawan is a LH clone of Sehwag. Sehwag always got the upper hand over the bowlers by hitting his way to stamp his authority. Dhawan does the same. He is at ease with either Rohit or Vijay as his partner. It is important for Vijay & Rohit to rotate the strike via singles to avoid the bowlers getting the upper hand. That is the only reason why the attacking batsmen should not be denied strike. Sehwag definitely was all for it & the bowlers feared facing Sehwag because of his power. He focussed on keeping the bowlers on defensive by exploiting his talent for hand eye coordination. I think Dhawan also has the same characteristics. That is the reason he cannot answer as to how he will play the bounce & seam movement on SA pitches. Simple answer is initially he will wait for a ball he can attack & ignore other balls till he gets his eye "IN". There after he will use his feet, if necessary, to convert the ball to the length that suits him to attack - a conclusion based on observation!

  • POSTED BY on | December 2, 2013, 20:24 GMT

    I am looking forward to at least 3 out of 5 top Indian batsman doing well in SA in tests. I feel excited about this series.

  • POSTED BY rahuja on | December 2, 2013, 19:31 GMT

    great observation.. but watching these matches, I have always felt that unlike the sharp runners that sehwag/gambhir duo were.. Sharma/Dhawan combo if anything is not that.. plus, Mr. Sharma has the tendency of getting bogged down (or knuckle down) during the early part of the innings.. similar to what kohli used to do in early part of his career..

    Would certainly explain less trike for dhawan..

  • POSTED BY AamirKhan-SuperStar on | December 2, 2013, 19:17 GMT

    Awesome! Nice analysis, shikhar has indeed continued from where sehwag left.

  • POSTED BY Ben2014 on | December 2, 2013, 19:10 GMT

    I don't agree with the assessment of Dhawan about keeping off from strike during trying periods. NO. Rohit and Vijay look to solidifying (for pessimists, eat away deliveries of) the innings. In the process they take up more deliveries than the attacking Dhawan. So it is no surprise that Dhawan faces fewer deliveries than his opening partner. It is only logical. Try comparing his partnership with Dhoni. We'll get a better understanding of Dhawan's dominance.

  • POSTED BY BigINDFan on | December 2, 2013, 18:56 GMT

    Rotating the strike and leaving deliveries is key for Test cricket and even in ODIs to a certain extent. This will come in handy in SA and his partner Vijay should be reading this article to rotate the strike. If both batsmen leave deliveries and take singles then they can last longer. The longer they last the easier it is for the rest. Pujara has this ability too and it will be interesting to watch how he handles the great bowling line up of SA

  • POSTED BY on | December 2, 2013, 18:47 GMT

    Really an interesting assessment of Shikhar Dhawan's career till now. May be he is just a smart cookie who knows his cricket well and has matured more now. All the Best Shikhar. Go ahead and keep spreading more happiness!! :)

  • POSTED BY InsideHedge on | December 2, 2013, 18:46 GMT

    Interesting article :) I guess Dhawan would have enjoyed batting with Ganguly, he of the worst taker of a single in Indian cricket history.

    It's critical to bat with a partner you're comfortable with, great pairs have a telepathy going on. When you're in awe of your batting partner, trouble brews. I could feel the unease that Dhawan felt when he batted with SRT for Mumbai Indians in a couple of IPl seasons, Dhawan rarely lasted 3 overs.

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  • POSTED BY InsideHedge on | December 2, 2013, 18:46 GMT

    Interesting article :) I guess Dhawan would have enjoyed batting with Ganguly, he of the worst taker of a single in Indian cricket history.

    It's critical to bat with a partner you're comfortable with, great pairs have a telepathy going on. When you're in awe of your batting partner, trouble brews. I could feel the unease that Dhawan felt when he batted with SRT for Mumbai Indians in a couple of IPl seasons, Dhawan rarely lasted 3 overs.

  • POSTED BY on | December 2, 2013, 18:47 GMT

    Really an interesting assessment of Shikhar Dhawan's career till now. May be he is just a smart cookie who knows his cricket well and has matured more now. All the Best Shikhar. Go ahead and keep spreading more happiness!! :)

  • POSTED BY BigINDFan on | December 2, 2013, 18:56 GMT

    Rotating the strike and leaving deliveries is key for Test cricket and even in ODIs to a certain extent. This will come in handy in SA and his partner Vijay should be reading this article to rotate the strike. If both batsmen leave deliveries and take singles then they can last longer. The longer they last the easier it is for the rest. Pujara has this ability too and it will be interesting to watch how he handles the great bowling line up of SA

  • POSTED BY Ben2014 on | December 2, 2013, 19:10 GMT

    I don't agree with the assessment of Dhawan about keeping off from strike during trying periods. NO. Rohit and Vijay look to solidifying (for pessimists, eat away deliveries of) the innings. In the process they take up more deliveries than the attacking Dhawan. So it is no surprise that Dhawan faces fewer deliveries than his opening partner. It is only logical. Try comparing his partnership with Dhoni. We'll get a better understanding of Dhawan's dominance.

  • POSTED BY AamirKhan-SuperStar on | December 2, 2013, 19:17 GMT

    Awesome! Nice analysis, shikhar has indeed continued from where sehwag left.

  • POSTED BY rahuja on | December 2, 2013, 19:31 GMT

    great observation.. but watching these matches, I have always felt that unlike the sharp runners that sehwag/gambhir duo were.. Sharma/Dhawan combo if anything is not that.. plus, Mr. Sharma has the tendency of getting bogged down (or knuckle down) during the early part of the innings.. similar to what kohli used to do in early part of his career..

    Would certainly explain less trike for dhawan..

  • POSTED BY on | December 2, 2013, 20:24 GMT

    I am looking forward to at least 3 out of 5 top Indian batsman doing well in SA in tests. I feel excited about this series.

  • POSTED BY Nampally on | December 2, 2013, 22:19 GMT

    Dhawan is a LH clone of Sehwag. Sehwag always got the upper hand over the bowlers by hitting his way to stamp his authority. Dhawan does the same. He is at ease with either Rohit or Vijay as his partner. It is important for Vijay & Rohit to rotate the strike via singles to avoid the bowlers getting the upper hand. That is the only reason why the attacking batsmen should not be denied strike. Sehwag definitely was all for it & the bowlers feared facing Sehwag because of his power. He focussed on keeping the bowlers on defensive by exploiting his talent for hand eye coordination. I think Dhawan also has the same characteristics. That is the reason he cannot answer as to how he will play the bounce & seam movement on SA pitches. Simple answer is initially he will wait for a ball he can attack & ignore other balls till he gets his eye "IN". There after he will use his feet, if necessary, to convert the ball to the length that suits him to attack - a conclusion based on observation!

  • POSTED BY pureaurum on | December 2, 2013, 23:33 GMT

    I think the comparison with Kho Kho is wrong. The "active players" who get to pass their active state to their team members are chasing the opponents to tag them out, they do not run the risk of getting out themselves.

  • POSTED BY IlMagnifico on | December 3, 2013, 1:03 GMT

    Difference of five percentage points in balls faced vs balls watched? Yawn....wake me up when you have *real* stats to report. Not a tortured set of numbers to prove a thesis you formed before looking up scoresheets.

    When you consider that Dhawan has been the junior partner at the crease in terms of experience, the paltry five percentage point difference is actually flies in the face of your premise.