India vs Pakistan has always been marketed as a battle of Pakistan's bowling vs Indian batting. In recent times, India's bowling has become a real force, but the fact remains that an Indian fan trusts its batsmen to win them games and a Pakistan fan swears by the quality of his team's fast bowlers to turn the game around.
With Virat Kohli away from the action in this series, India has two undisputed ODI batting Gods in their ranks, Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni. But when it comes to modern ODI batting greatness, there is one contender who is often overlooked in the galaxy of superstars that is the Indian batting line up. Kohli has the consistency, Dhoni has the finishes, Rohit has his double hundreds, but when it comes to performing on the big stage in big tournaments, no one has a better record than Shikhar Dhawan in the last five years.
Dhawan first played in a multi-nation ODI tournament (a tournament comprising of 3 or more teams) in Champions Trophy 2013 where he was named Player of the series in India's victorious campaign. Since then, no batsman in the world has scored more runs or more hundreds than Dhawan in ODI tournaments. Overall, Dhawan has 1702 runs and six hundreds when he is playing in multi-nation tournaments. The next highest on the list in terms of the number of runs is Rohit Sharma with 1432 runs. A 90+ strike rate indicates that his consistency doesn't come at the cost of scoring rate. DhawanThe Indian opener's average in ODI tournaments is 51.57, which is 5.10 runs more than his career average of 46.47. Clearly, Dhawan prefers facing different bowling attacks over the course of a competition instead of facing the same bowling attacks over and over in a bilateral series.
Just weeks ago, Dhawan was having a torrid time in England against a quality attack in tough conditions against the red ball. Despite, bleak numbers, there were brief spells where he looked good only to squander it away with a seeming loss of concentration. But as soon as Dhawan landed in UAE, he put the tour behind him and hit the ground running with a hundred against Hong Kong in India's opening game. In the next two games against Pakistan and Bangladesh, he gave his team solid starts.
Dhawan's ability to live in the present is an essential factor in his success. He will get beaten five times in an over, but if the sixth ball provides an opportunity to score runs, he won't miss out. He may look terribly out of form in one series, but it may take him just a couple of balls hitting the middle of his bat to hit form again the next time you see him. Once he gets going, Dhawan is among the hardest batsmen to contain. He will pick even the tiniest of gaps on the off side against the seam bowlers or toy with the leg side field against spinners with his array powerful or delicate sweeps. In many ways, Dhawan is a left-handed and slightly toned down version of Virender Sehwag.
The only way to keep Dhawan quiet is by bowling it fast and into his body. With his very side-on stance, Dhawan finds it hard at times to swivel his body to play the pull and gets himself into a tangle. That is likely to be Pakistan's tactic against him early on. But if you overdo it and Dhawan sees it coming, then he is adept enough to deposit you over the mid-wicket fence. Of course, Dhawan can always roll over the strike when the man at the other end is Rohit Sharma who feasts on a similar line of attack. It's one of the reasons that makes them tick as a pair; both know each other's game inside out and never try to outdo each other as long as the team total is looking healthy.
Last India-Pakistan game was a dead rubber since both the teams had already made it to the next round. The game on Sunday will have an added context as the winner will be guaranteed of a slot in the final. With the two teams likely to meet again in the finals, it's also an opportunity for individual players to gain a psychological upper hand against the opponents. But above all, the greatest motivator for Dhawan, Rohit and the rest of the team will be the chance to become the toast of the nation by winning another game against the arch-rivals.