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Shivam Dube is an elite spin-hitter, and he's improving against the short ball

The two-bouncer rule has presented a distinct challenge, but he seems to be finding a way

Deivarayan Muthu
Chennai boy and Tamil Nadu captain R Sai Kishore had just silenced 33,400 Chennai Super Kings fans at Chepauk, having Ajinkya Rahane stumped. He had bowled 2.1 overs without conceding a boundary, and his figures read 1 for 13.
Shivam Dube, though, needed just two balls to turn up the tempo and rekindle the noise, whacking both for sixes. The decibel level zoomed up to 127. It won't go that high even for MS Dhoni's diving catch later in the night.
The two sixes amply demonstrated Dube's threat against spin. First, Sai Kishore darted one full and outside off stump from left-arm over, and Dube dropped down on one knee to slog-sweep him over long-on. Sai Kishore immediately switched his angle of attack and went around the wicket, and tried to slant the ball away from Dube's hitting arc. He still used his reach, however, and crunched the left-arm fingerspinner over midwicket for an even bigger six, taking the shot on even with three fielders back on the leg-side boundary.
Just like that, Sai Kishore, who had topped the wickets charts in the 50-overs Vijay Hazare Trophy and the Ranji Trophy, had been dumped out of the attack. And having taken down one of India's best domestic spinners, Dube pressed on to line up Rashid Khan, one of the world's best spinners, launching him over long-on for another six. It was the wrong'un, but it didn't matter. Dube can also mess with spinners who take the ball away from him.
He had faced only ten balls, and he was already on 24.
Since snapping him up at the IPL 2022 auction, CSK have used Dube as a super-specialist against spin. His strike rate of 162.56 against spin is the best among Indian batters since IPL 2022. Among all batters, only Heinrich Klaasen (192.85) and Glenn Maxwell (176.56) have done better in this period.
Dube's tall frame, big reach and brute power have put him among the elite IPL six-hitters in recent times. Since 2022, only Jos Buttler (59) has hit more sixes than his 57, while Andre Russell and Liam Livingstone are level with him.
Dube, though, has his limitations: he is vulnerable against pace and more specifically express pace. CSK have found a way to minimise those limitations by deploying him through the middle overs, where most teams tend not to bowl too many overs of out-and-out pace. However, the two-bouncer-per-over rule, which was introduced this season, has presented him with a new challenge.
Soon after Dube had walked out to bat in the season-opener against Royal Challengers Bangalore, Faf du Plessis had matched Alzarri Joseph up with him. Even Cameron Green dug the ball into the pitch and got it to climb towards Dube's throat. Around the same time, Dale Steyn posted on X ( formerly Twitter): "Short ball tactic is already showing who can and who can't… Gana be a long IPL for some batters."
Dube just about survived that short-ball burst from Joseph and saw CSK home. On Tuesday, Spencer Johnson, the Australia quick who had floored Russell with a nasty bouncer last month, tried to rattle Dube with a similar ball. But Dube was ready for it, swivelling quickly on the back foot and hooking a shoulder-high delivery over long leg for six. At the other end, Mohit Sharma tested him with the slower short ball, but Dube coolly rode the bounce and steered it down between short fine leg and deep square leg for four more.
All up, Dube scored 23 off 13 short or short-of-a-length balls from seamers on Tuesday. He finished with 51 off 23 balls at a strike rate of 221.73. Until about two years ago, Dube's response to the bouncer was to duck out of the way or just fend it off. He has now levelled up to the extent that he now has more scoring - and defensive - options against the bouncer.
"Definitely, I've worked in that way and it's helping me," Dube said after winning the Player-of-the-match award. "I know they will bowl short balls at me, [but] I'm ready for that. They [CSK team management] want me to do the same thing that I did today. They want me to go at a higher strike rate against the bowlers, so I'm trying that."
Michael Hussey, the CSK batting coach, credited Dube for understanding his weakness and taking steps to remedy it during the off-season.
"Well, you rewind to maybe one or two years ago, teams would come in and bowl a lot of short balls and he would either duck out of the way or defend. And that's all he had until he got in and set and then he could maybe play some shots against it," Hussey said at his post-match press conference.
"Now the bowlers are still coming in with the same plan, but he's been able to score off it as well and he's been able to find boundaries, if he gets into the right position as well. So that's a testament to the work that he's put in behind the scenes and being ready for their plans. And now it's, you know, back on the bowlers. What are they going to do? Now, are they going to continue with this plan, or will they go away from that? And try something else? We'll have to wait and see, but I think a lot of credit needs to go to Dube for the amount of work that he's put in against that particular ball."
Over the last six months or so, Dube's levelled-up game has also brought him success in T20Is, with back-to-back half-centuries against Afghanistan in January showing what he can do on the international stage. Whether he keeps his place is a question India will need to answer as they tune up for the T20 World Cup, which kicks off on June 1 in the USA and the Caribbean.
"I think it [his progress] will hold him in good stead for the [rest of the] IPL," Hussey said. "But also if he gets opportunities for the country again in the future, I think it'll hold him in great stead as well."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo