Shikhar Dhawan with a bat in his hand is a street bully these days for the bowlers. He will spot any sign of weakness and unleash his assault. If your feet wobble or your eyes flinch then he will feed on your fear to get stronger and beat you to the ground. This Sri Lanka tour so far is an exhibition of his bullying tactics over and over again.
On Sunday Dhawan relished the opportunity to bat without much pressure. Sri Lanka had posted a paltry 216 batting first and given the form Indian batsmen have been over the past few months, it was never going to be enough on a good batting pitch.
Dhawan started off by peppering the off side boundary with his usual array of cover drives, cuts and nudges. Dhawan is as good as anyone in world cricket in finding gaps on the off side. His relaxed stance, high backlift and immaculate timing make it impossible to defend the off side boundary once the bowlers start giving him some width. Last night Dhawan got enough width from Sri Lankan bowlers and unsurprisingly scored 62 out of 132 runs between cover and mid off.
Earlier this year, when Shikhar Dhawan was dropped from the team, he had vowed to work on his consistency but refused to divulge much about specific areas he is working on and people he is consulting. As it turns out, his methods were indeed worth guarding as classified material. Since Champions Trophy, Dhawan has been the most consistent player in the team without losing anything out on his impactful style.
One weakness Dhawan suffered from throughout his career was the short ball directed at his body. He wasn’t opening his body enough and used to get cramped while playing the pull shot. Since his come back, Dhawan has looked more comfortable while playing the pull shot as he tries to swivel quickly when he is playing the shot. It’s still not his best shot but he looks more in control while playing it as he did against Malinga a couple of times in the first power play and collected a four and a six for his efforts.
As Dhawan’s inning progressed, his mood continued to get more destructive. This wasn’t a chanceless inning by any means. He was constantly giving chances to the Lankans but the ball kept evading Sri Lankan fielders every time there was an opportunity. Instead of holding back, the missed chances only encouraged Dhawan to come harder at the frustrated Sri Lankan side.
When spin was introduced in the thirteenth over, Dhawan deposited Sandakan over mid wicket boundary to bring up his sixth consecutive ODI fifty against Sri Lanka. Taking toll of anything short was a feature of Dhawan’s inning. He was equally good at picking anything that was tossed up and charging down the track to meet the ball.
Against spin, there isn’t a trick that Dhawan didn’t employ. He met the ball on the full whenever he had the opportunity and played orthodox drives to find the gap. When the bowlers tried to pull it back he played the sweep and pull, and when he wanted to just toy with the spinners he brought out the reverse sweep.
The Dhawan sweep is becoming stuff of legends in Sri Lanka. Like most good sweepers, Dhawan opens up the field whenever he gets on one knee against the spinners. He can gently deflect it fine or powerfully dismiss it square along the ground or in the air to find the gaps. You only had to look at the expressions on the face of Sri Lankan spinners on Sunday evening to understand how frustrating it can get when a batsman is able to do that with consistency.
Dhawan raised his hundred in the 22nd over of the inning in typical fashion by collecting three boundaries against Wanindu Hasaranga’s innocuous leg spin. First, he chipped down the track and drove the ball straight past him, then he danced around the crease and swept it fine and finally when the bowler was forced to flatten the trajectory he could play his favourite cut to get to his hundred off 71 balls, the fastest by an Indian in Sri Lanka.
The only thing that could have dismissed Dhawan on Sunday was his own boredom at how easy it was for him in the middle. That is one area he can still work on if he wants to get more consistent at the international level. At times, you get the feeling that once his adrenaline starts flowing, Dhawan is premeditating a bit too much in trying to dominate the opposition. With 2019 in mind, Dhawan needs to develop the ability to just be out there for his team at times.