Shikhar Dhawan's transformation from anchor to aggressor
With Shaw misfiring and Pant injured, Dhawan's change couldn't have come at a better time
When Shikhar Dhawan was with the Sunrisers Hyderabad, he was David Warner's sidekick. Then, even after moving to the Delhi Capitals, he was quite happy to play second fiddle to the likes of Prithvi Shaw and Rishabh Pant. Now with Pant injured and Shaw struggling, Dhawan has become the top-order enforcer for the Capitals in IPL 2020.
Dhawan has always had the shots, but has been a touch too conservative in the past. However, this season he has dared to take greater risks and the refreshing, new approach rewarded him with his maiden T20 century in his 265th innings.
Deepak Chahar got the new ball to hold up in the pitch and dismissed Prithvi Shaw for a duck even as Capitals faced a chase of 180. Shreyas Iyer was barely striking at 100. However, Dhawan advanced down the pitch regularly, manufactured his own angles, and struck at nearly 175. Sure, he was reprieved four times, but that didn't stop him from taking his chances.
He shimmied out to Sam Curran and though he was nowhere close to the pitch of the ball, he checked his loft and chipped it over his head for four. He then stepped out to Shardul Thakur as well, but the seamer shifted his lines wider. Dhawan still reached out for the ball and scythed it away for four. Immediately after he was dropped by Chahar in the outfield, he used his feet and sliced another chance past Shane Watson at short third man for four.
Other openers like Shubman Gill and KL Rahul have started too slowly in the powerplay, leaving the middle order with too much to do, but Dhawan, who was an anchor himself earlier, has broken away from this pack. Dhawan has struck at nearly 134.25 in the first six overs; only Quinton de Kock and Mayank Agarwal have a better strike rate among batsmen who have faced at least 100 balls in the powerplay this season.
It is that attacking enterprise that has helped Dhawan thrive this IPL and it even foiled MS Dhoni's best-laid plans on Saturday. When the Super Kings captain tried to control the game in the middle overs with his spinners, he first hit Ravindra Jadeja out of the attack. He then went after Karn Sharma, sending both his stock legbreak and the wrong'un to the boundaries. Iyer then holed out, as did Marcus Stoinis and Carey, but Dhawan kept pinging the boundary, ensuring the asking rate was always within the Capitals' reach.
When Sharma came back into the attack, Dhawan backed away and disdainfully shovelled him away between deep midwicket and wide long-on. This wasn't quite the Sharjah track where teams had rattled off 200-plus scores for fun in the first half of the tournament, but Dhawan's power could've tricked you into believing that it was the same-old, high-scoring Sharjah. In all he struck 14 fours and 1 six, and faced just 10 dots out of 58 balls. And according to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data, he defended only one ball.
" [It's] very special. Been playing for 13 years and this is the first time that I've got a hundred, so a special moment," Dhawan told host broadcaster Star Sports at the post-match presentation. "I keep my mindset positive. I don't think about doing this and that. Of course, I have few tools as in strategies, if it's a slow wicket what I'll do and what I'll make the bowler do as well. So, those things... I implement those things while batting. I played with courage, not afraid of getting out."
Dhawan now has three fifty-plus scores in his last three innings across all three venues in the UAE. Beware of his fearless ball-striking, bowlers.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo