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Match Analysis

Fearless Shikhar Dhawan adds a new dimension to his batting

During his 49-ball 92 against Punjab Kings, Dhawan repeatedly walked towards the off side to work the ball behind square leg

Hemant Brar
Hemant Brar
Fifteenth over of the chase. Jhye Richardson is bowling around the wicket to Shikhar Dhawan. It's a slow, dipping full toss but way outside off. Dhawan could have easily hit it through the off side. Instead, he moves across, goes down on one knee and taps it towards square leg. Riley Meredith throws himself to his left to keep it to one.
It was a shot that won't make it to the highlights package but it highlighted Dhawan's new approach to batting. An approach where he is not scared of trying out new things to add another dimension to his game.
Once a mainstay for India in limited-overs cricket, Dhawan is no longer guaranteed a place in the T20I XI. One of the reasons behind that is in the last few years, the format has moved at a pace Dhawan couldn't keep up with. Since the start of 2019, 25 openers from Full Member nations have played ten or more T20I innings. Only Fakhar Zaman (110.00) has a worse strike rate than Dhawan's 114.24.
With the T20 World Cup scheduled to be played in India later this year, Dhawan is leaving no stone unturned to claim his spot back. In the last two years at the IPL, he has improved his strike rate significantly, however, his 49-ball 92 against the Punjab Kings on Sunday exhibited a different aspect of his game.
Until not so long ago, a typical Dhawan innings would be brimming with cover drives. If he played a cover drive early in his innings, the probability of him scoring big went up. While that may still be true, Dhawan showed he is not afraid of exploring other scoring zones.
During his Player-of-the-Match performance, which helped the Delhi Capitals chase down 196, Dhawan repeatedly walked towards the off side in order to work the ball behind square leg. He also deployed a much-improved slog shot, targeting the midwicket area in particular. As a result, 53 out of his 92 runs came in the arc from midwicket to fine leg. In comparison, the whole off side yielded only 32 runs.
In all, Dhawan scored 13 fours and two sixes. Out of those, eight fours and a six came in the aforementioned region.
After the match, Dhawan said he has been focusing on improving his leg-side game. "I worked on those shots in the nets, like going towards the off stump and using the pace of the bowler," Dhawan told Star Sports at the post-match presentation.
He further expanded on his approach in a chat with R Ashwin on "Once I know the bowlers are bowling yorkers or wide yorkers and they have set up a field [for that], it's hard to find a boundary on the off side. So I try to use the pace and I enjoy doing that, playing those cheeky shots.
"My slog shot has improved a lot. It was there earlier as well but now I play it more freely. I am not afraid of changes, I keep on trying things. But I make sure I give them a good shot in the nets first and then bring it out in a game."
While such cheeky shots look great when they come off, they also carry an inherent risk element. In fact, Dhawan lost his wicket while trying a similar shot. In an attempt to hit Richardson towards fine leg, he ended up shuffling so much outside off that once he failed to connect, the ball hit the off and middle stumps.
Dhawan, though, is aware of the risk-reward equation. "I am not scared of getting out. Today, I got out but these are the shots where I can score runs as well, so I back myself.
"I have been playing for so many years now that I feel more relaxed. Relaxed but at the same time I am attentive so that I don't take things for granted."
At the moment, with 186 runs from three innings, at an average of 62 and a strike rate of 163, Dhawan is the leading run-scorer in IPL 2021. But he also knows that all his runs have come in the batting-friendly conditions at the Wankhede Stadium. In fact, both his half-centuries have come while chasing, when the dew makes batting a lot easier.
The Capitals will play their next two games in Chennai, where the batters haven't been able to score that freely so far. Dhawan, however, is up for the challenge.
"It [the Wankhede pitch] has got a true bounce and the ball comes at a nice pace," he said. "Because of the dew also it gets much easier for the team batting second. For my batting style, I enjoy using the pace of the ball, and against a spinner, if it's not turning, I can play my slog sweeps, but I have to be a bit mindful of when I am going to play in Chennai.
"I have been seeing on TV that the wicket is turning and is a bit slow. I am already preparing for it and looking forward to playing against them and grabbing the opportunity."
Dhawan knows he won't get a better opportunity than the IPL to win back his place in India's T20I XI.

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo