Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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In the third ODI in Christchurch, Shikhar Dhawan gave the impression that he was trying to be busy early on. He charged down to his fifth ball and went over point for four, and then danced down to smash his 11th for six over long-on. After four overs, 36-year old Dhawan was on 15 off 16 while his 23-year old opening partner, Shubman Gill, hadn't scored after eight deliveries.
But Dhawan's fast start did not last. He scored only 10 off his next 20 balls and ended the powerplay with a strike rate of just under 70. He was eventually dismissed for 28 off 45 balls.
As the regular stand-in ODI captain for Rohit Sharma, Dhawan is the first-choice opener as India begin to gear up for next year's World Cup at home. He has also played the most games - 34 - for India since the 2019 World Cup and been exceptional for the most part. But in 2022, Dhawan has slowed down and his strike rate does not reflect the kind of approach white-ball formats are moving towards. In fact, they are headed in opposite directions.
Dhawan's ODI strike rate in 2016, 2017 and 2018 was around 101 and in each of the next three years it hovered around 91, which is still pretty good. But over 19 innings in 2022, his strike rate has fallen drastically to 75.11. That number is the lowest for an India batter in a year since 2008, when Rohit scored at 72.57, but ODI cricket was an extremely different game 14 years ago.
One reason could be that Dhawan has chosen to play the anchoring role - while his experienced colleagues like Rohit and Virat Kohli took frequent breaks from ODIs to focus on the T20 World Cup - because the difference between him and Gill in this series in New Zealand was stark. Dhawan's strike rate in the powerplay during the three-match series was 60; Gill's was 74.28. And in 2022, Dhawan has been scoring at 68 in the first ten overs, while Gill has gone at 89 in similar conditions.
In recent years, England have redefined batting in ODIs and their openers Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow have shown there's no need for an anchor, unless you encounter challenging conditions. Among openers to have faced at least 200 balls in ODIs this year, Dhawan's strike rate is 12th in a list of 15.
It's not as though the drop in Dhawan's strike rate has resulted in an increase in his average either. While he was striking at 91 in 2020 and 2021, he averaged above 58 in each of those years, but this year his strike rate has dropped to 75 and his average has also fallen to 40.
Until very recently, Dhawan was among the best ODI batters. During a prolific five-year period from 2016 to 2021, he was extremely consistent and extremely quick. His overall strike rate of 98 was among the top ten.
Since the start of this year, Dhawan's average and strike rate are lower than the combined average (nearly 46) and strike rate (92) of all the other openers that India have tried. Openers of other teams don't average as much as Dhawan this year - 34.34 - but they score at a much faster pace - 85.21 - which is the way of the modern game.
Whatever the reason for Dhawan's slowdown, the spotlight on his strike rate could intensify this weekend, as he travels from New Zealand to Bangladesh for another three-match ODI series. Perhaps the reunion with his regular opening partner Rohit, and the infusion of Kohli and KL Rahul's experience into the playing XI, will allow him to play a more attacking game. With intense competition for spots in India's ODI batting order, Dhawan might need to speed up to keep the other contenders at bay.