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

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 alone…

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

  • Manish 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Naresh 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Rahul 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

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