A 'good start' to an innings has different meanings in all the three different formats of cricket.
In Tests, a start can't be termed as good unless the openers have spent enough time at the crease along with scoring a decent number of runs, say something close to a hundred. The need for setting up a base for a big score is of utmost importance in the longest format of the game.
The story is different in the case of ODIs. A good start in this format doesn't necessarily mean keeping wickets intact. Even a score of 60/1 after 10 overs or 110/2 after 15-16 overs is considered good by the standards of the format. If those runs come without losing any wickets then it's obviously a bonus but saving wickets during the initial overs is again the main objective in this format, as it allows a team the freedom to go for the kill in the last few overs.
However, the whole concept of saving wickets during the initial overs is totally redundant in the T20 format. It's the kind of format in which batsmen always need to attack and be in charge of the proceedings. And going hard at the top during the first six overs forms the basis of any T20 innings. So instead of looking to save their wickets, the openers should focus more on maximising the yield of runs during the first six overs of fielding restrictions.
Most T20I teams are well aware of this fact and hence make attacking starts a priority. India, on the other hand, have been different in their approach to T20Is with Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan at the helm. They have relied on heavy opening partnerships from them even in T20Is and that is the reason they have often failed to maximise the runs in the first six overs and also failed to put up a big score on the board.
However, on Sunday, the approach of Rohit and Dhawan at the Wanderers against South Africa appeared to be different. It seemed like they had changed their mindset and the team management had given them the licence to go all guns blazing from the start.
They took Dane Patterson for 18 runs in the very first over with Rohit scoring 17 of those runs. By the time he departed in the second over, India already had 24 quick runs on the board with Rohit scoring 21 of those in just nine deliveries. Suresh Raina walked out to bat next and started attacking in the same way. It appeared to be reckless from him as he top edged a couple of deliveries, but the kind of approach he showed was right. He departed in the fourth over after contributing 15 runs off just seven deliveries. India's score read 49/2 in the fourth over when Raina departed.
Dhawan, however, was silent all this while, watching the carnage from the other end. He was batting on 11 runs off eight deliveries with the help of a six off Junior Dala - a furious flick over mid-wicket on the first delivery of the fourth over itself.
It was looking like the duo of Dhawan and Virat Kohli would put the anchors down as India had already lost two wickets. Dhawan generally is the one who often plays the anchoring role in such situations as he has been doing in the Indian Premier League (IPL) for the Sunrisers Hyderabad and also for India in T20Is.
But he teed off instead and scored 19 runs in the next five deliveries he faced in the power play itself with three fours and a six. As a result, India's score stood at 78/2 at the end of the sixth over and it seemed they had made the most of the fielding restrictions. Dhawan was batting on 30 at that stage off just 13 deliveries.
His innings on Sunday was pretty special as it turned out to be different than most of his T20I innings. Just when you thought that he would put his anchors down, he kept producing one magnificent shot after another, which showed his attacking mindset. It was not the way we usually see Dhawan batting. Kohli, at the other end, was the one who was playing the second fiddle this time.
Yes, there was some help from the South African pacers as they bowled horrible lines and lengths. And Dhawan pounced on those opportunities and punished them hard. And he didn't let them settle down either, putting even the good balls away to the boundary.
Then when Kohli started producing some beautiful shots at the other end, it seemed like Dhawan was putting his anchors down. He had scored 12 runs in eight deliveries after the power play while Kohli produced 17 off 12 deliveries during that period.
However, when Tabraiz Shamsi accounted for Kohli in the 10th over of the innings, it was time for Dhawan to counter-attack once again, with a new partner at the crease. India's score at the halfway stage read 110/3 with Dhawan batting on 43 off 23 deliveries.
Before he departed in the 15th over of the innings, Dhawan had added another 29 runs off just 16 deliveries, taking his total run tally on the day to 72 runs off just 39 deliveries at a mammoth strike rate of 184.61. His innings consisted of 10 fours and two sixes and was an absolute treat to watch.
The highlights of his innings was the way he stepped down the track to the pacers fearlessly and kept hoiking them over the leg side, the way he kept putting the short balls away to the boundary with fierce pulls and cuts and most importantly, the way he dealt with the spinners with equal panache.
His career T20I strike rate in 29 innings reads 123.49 which is pretty decent by T20 standards and hence sums up the way he has played so far. In fact, his overall T20 strike rate is also just 120.62 in a massive 189 innings. And it is no different when his IPL strike rate of 121.86 in a total of 127 matches is considered.
However, his high T20 average of 31.23 suggests he always scores big runs and acts as a glue in an innings, one that binds the whole innings. But in T20s, it is more effective if each of the batsmen attack instead of an individual trying to bat out the full 20 overs with other batsmen scoring around him.
Dhawan's innings on Sunday just provided a template of that. He batted out a total of around 15 overs but scored at a strike rate of 184.61. In a total of 29 T20I innings for India, it has only been six times that he has played at a strike rate in excess of 150 and India have romped on to big scores on all of those occasions.
T20 cricket is a format which is evolving to newer levels with every passing day. The need of the hour is now batsmen who can attack at all stages of the game and Dhawan batting out of his skin on Sunday showed the importance of that. He showed a template that the Indian top order should follow in the upcoming matches instead of just settling down in the middle overs and launching big towards the end. Indeed, an all out attack is the kind of mindset that every top order batsman should follow in T20s and Dhawan's innings at the Wanderers was a prime example of that.