Less strike, more success for Dhawan
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