Shikhar Dhawan's last five innings prior to Sunday - 53*, 45, 56*, 11, 47 - lend themselves to more than one narrative. While the bleeding obvious would be consistency and the weight of his contributions - three of those came in winning causes - the more compelling story is how he has played the role of a marathoner for Sunrisers Hyderabad. Of the five innings listed above, he has been dismissed before the 14th over just once. All this after he managed only 16 runs in his first three innings.
Dhawan admits he has been empowered to play the way he has because of David Warner's presence. Warner's brazenness in the Powerplay has allowed Dhawan to discreetly put together pieces of his batting. The fire and ice routine has been particularly effective in chasing down totals - Warner would go for broke and swiftly prune the target, while Dhawan's holding act helped close out games.
Dhawan's knock against Mumbai Indians was in the same mould, but the difference lay in how he had to set the game up rather than having a target to chase down. Warner bossed the bowling as usual in an 85-run opening stand in 9.5 overs. Dhawan, then on 34 off 26 balls, was steady without being imposing, with most of his runs coming via dabs and steers to third man. In between, there were a few ill-timed pull shots too.
Sunrisers managed only eight runs off 13 balls following Warner's dismissal. They also lost Kane Williamson cheaply. The pressure was on Dhawan and Yuvraj Singh to ensure Sunrisers didn't waste a strong start. Dhawan endured another two-over lull which yielded just nine runs. But he looked confident of making up for the slowdown.
The take-off point, according to him, was after the second strategic time-out when Sunrisers were 102 for 2 in 14 overs. Yuvraj was the first to switch to attack with a brace of boundaries off Kieron Pollard, who conceded 14 runs in the over. Dhawan continued to feed Yuvraj the strike, and he played a big hand in another 14-run over, off Mitchell McClenaghan.
"It was crucial for us to build a partnership. That's why we took a bit of time and made the game a bit slow for a few overs," Dhawan said after Sunrisers' 85-run win. "After the second break [timeout] we started targeting all the bowlers because only five-six overs were left and we wanted to achieve a good target. Once Yuvi [Yuvraj] paaji was also set we knew we had to change the gears. Yuvi paaji played amazingly well, especially the way he was striking the ball after coming back from an injury."
Dhawan took off in the 17th over with a stunning combination of the cunning and power to rattle Jasprit Bumrah. He backed away and then extended his arms to carve the first ball over third man for four. The second ball, a yorker, didn't fetch him runs, but Dhawan sold Bumrah the dummy the next delivery. Seeing Dhawan had given himself room, Bumrah bowled the off-cutter around off stump, but Dhawan tweaked his plan at the last moment to shuffle across and scoop the ball over fine leg. A demoralised Bumrah then sent down a leg-stump full toss which was flicked for four behind square.
A broader range of leg-side strokes has been a refreshing aspect of Dhawan's batting over the last year, and 47 off his 82 runs - a majority of those behind square - against Mumbai came on the on side. He said strokes like the shuffle-and-scoop helped him throw bowlers off gear. "[I] know I am good at playing those shots, and when a bowler has a good slower one or when he is bowling two-three kind of deliveries I try to disturb bowler's line by doing that stuff."
Dhawan's dot-ball percentage stood at 29, but the rapid burst at the end helped him achieve his fastest knock yet in IPL 2016. "When we decided to change our gears I had spent enough time so I was comfortable and knew what the ball was going to do," Dhawan said. "Before that because we were losing wickets we couldn't take big chances. I was playing according to the situation [but staying] patient for those particular moments came handy, and once when we attacked the opposition it went our way."