Shikhar Dhawan has reached 1000 ODI runs, 2000 ODI runs and 3000 ODI runs, a milestone he achieved this past Wednesday in the fourth ODI against Australia, faster than any other India batsman. Only Hashim Amla and a certain Sir IVA Richards have got to 3000 runs quicker, which is to say Dhawan has got there faster than Sachin Tendulkar, than Sourav Ganguly, than Virat Kohli, than Rohit Sharma.
In other words, it is the best “beginning” to an ODI career by an India player in one-day history (and this includes the aborted start to Dhawan’s career back in 2010-11). Yet, somehow, it is not enough and the calls for him to be dropped have mushroomed, including on this website - here and here. Dhawan, it seems, just can’t get any respect.
What the numbers show is that dropping Dhawan would be a mistake. Since his return to the ODI side in 2013 he has been India’s third most prolific one-day batsman, topped only by Kohli and Rohit He is worthy not only of his place in the team, but the backing of his captain when he struggles.
The argument against Dhawan appears to rest on three pillars: His alleged inconsistency, his recent poor run of form, and the presence of Ajinkya Rahane as a readymade replacement at the top of the order.
Let’s take each one in turn. Since Dhawan’s return to the ODI side in June 2013, he has averaged over 45 in nine of the 15 series he has played. By way of comparison, Kohli has done so in 10 of his last 15 series.
In more recent times, Dhawan has averaged over 50 in four of his last six series, including the World Cup and the current series against Australia. And whenever he has had a bad series, he has usually bounced back in the next (only once has he suffered two poor series in a row).
Averages can be misleading, though. It could turn out that Dhawan plays the odd big knock that “averages out” a larger number of cheap dismissals. But here again the numbers are in Dhawan’s favour. He has nine hundreds and 16 fifties from 73 innings, meaning he makes at least a half-century in 34.25 per cent of his innings. In this India side, only Kohli, at 37.65 per cent, can top him.
Dhawan’s longest streak without at least a half-century is seven innings so far. Kohli’s longest streak is 12 and he has had two other streaks of seven innings without a fifty, albeit over 162 innings compared to 73.
Dhawan’s form over the last 12 months has been good as ever too. He has four fifties and four hundreds over 22 games, which works out to at least a half-century 36.36 per cent of the time, a slight improvement. It is a marginally better ratio than Kohli has over the same span (four hundreds, three fifties from 22 innings) and second only to Rohit (four hundreds, four fifties from 20 innings).
If you just take the last six months though, Dhawan’s average does drop to 37.22. But then if you take just the last three months, it zooms back up to 46. Not quite the dictionary definition of inconsistent then.
Dhawan’s run of poor from prior to his last two games, in which he had gone 13 ODIs without a century and averaged 29.07 with a strike-rate of 79.91, was more cause for concern. But his last two innings show the value of sticking with him and his history of bouncing back provides the justification for it.
Besides, every batsman in the world has ups and downs (with the obvious exception of Sir Don Bradman).
Between August 2012 and July 2013, Kohli went 16 innings without a century, averaging 29.23 with only two fifties. The difference lies in how we perceive them. Dhawan is seen as stroke-maker (which he is) and stroke-makers are thought to be inconsistent and infuriating (which Dhawan sometimes is but mostly isn’t). We expect Kohli to return to form but we are not so sure about Dhawan. As a result, a couple of poor shots, a few low scores, and the knives come out.
The Rahane argument is the most interesting one. Opening is probably Rahane’s best position because it would give him the luxury of time but it isn’t simply a straightforward swap between him and Dhawan.
Moving Rahane up requires someone else to take his spot in the middle order and that doesn’t necessarily strengthen the team under present circumstances, I’d rather have Dhawan at the top (given his stats) and Rahane at No. 4, then Rahane at the top and Manish Pandey or Gurkeerat Mann walking in at No. 4. Or even Dhoni walking out at No. 4, followed by Pandey and Mann.
There is one final set of statistics I’d like to throw at you that, for me, clinches Dhawan’s value to the team. Dhawan has scored more runs in India victories – 1639 - than Kohli (1526) and Rohit (1470) in matches that all three have played together since Dhawan’s career began. He is also tied with Kohli for the most centuries with seven.
His value hasn’t declined recently either. Over India’s last 10 wins in which all three have played, Kohli, with 479 runs, just pips Dhawan, who has 472. Rohit is a distant fourth with 349 runs, with Suresh Raina in third, having scored 368 runs (As an aside, Rohit has averaged a stunning 77.44 in India’s losses over the last 12 months, and half that - 38.77 - when India wins, a stunning statistical anomaly that deserves its own investigation).
Overall, eight of Dhawan’s nine ODI hundreds have come in India wins compared to five of 10 for Rohit. And India has won 19 of 25 games (78 per cent) in which Dhawan has scored at least fifty compared to 10 of 37 (43 per cent) for Rohit and 40 out of 61 (65.58 per cent) for Kohli.
All of which is to say Dhawan scoring runs is a pretty good bellwether for India’s fortunes. Drop him? I think not.
Editor's note: This article was published before the Sydney ODI