It is pretty important for players to remain in top notch form in the days leading to a mega event like the World Cup. The hard work done over the years often doesn’t matter if the players go through a lean patch during this period.
Shikhar Dhawan, who had been adjudged the ‘Man of the Series’ during India’s title winning 2013 ICC Champions Trophy campaign and was also the highest run getter for India during the World Cup and Champions Trophy of 2015 and 2017 respectively, had been going through a similar poor run of form for the past six months.
While Rohit Sharma, his opening partner, scored 842 runs in 17 innings at a scintillating average of 56.13 during this period, Dhawan struggled throughout with only 392 runs to his name at a poor average of 24.50 in the same number of innings.
Moreover, his scores in the last five innings—1, 21, 0, 6, and 13—indicated how much he was struggling. KL Rahul’s promising comeback in the T20I series against Australia also put pressure on Dhawan as the selectors had clearly expressed their desire of taking Rahul to England as their backup opener for the World Cup.
With Dhawan failing to make his case in the first three ODIs of the ongoing series against Australia, KL Rahul seemed set to be given a go at the top of the order in place of Dhawan. However, skipper Virat Kohli and the team management kept their faith in the Delhi batsman and retained him for the fourth ODI at Mohali, the same venue where he had announced his arrival to the international scene with a mesmerising knock of 187, that too against the same opponents.
And the Delhi Southpaw couldn’t have done anything better to repay their faith as he roared back into form with a brutal knock of 143 runs off 115 deliveries. He looked supremely confident right from the onset of his innings, and the level of swagger he put on display in Mohali was similar to his maiden Test hundred on this venue that came back in 2013.
The Australian bowlers had no answer to his onslaught back then, and they looked equally clueless now. He drove, cut, pulled and slashed. Every shot he played was brutal yet classy, and he left everyone in awe of his stroke-play each of the 21 times he sent the ball to the boundary.
Not only that, this innings was also special because of the way he overcame the demons that had been haunting him in recent times.
His struggles against left-arm pace in the last few matches has been well documented. Dhawan has been dismissed to left-arm pacers on six occasions (four times to Trent Boult and twice to Jason Behrendorff) this year. However, he was determined to improve on this aspect in Mohali.
He started off against Behrendorff cautiously this time around, fetching just a solitary run off his first 10 deliveries. But he took him on once he settled down, and there was no respite for the left-arm quick. Dhawan switched his beast mode on and smashed Behrendorff for five fours and one six off the next 24 deliveries he served up to him.
Jhye Richardson was another pacer who got absolutely smashed all around the park by Dhawan. Glenn Maxwell was also brought on to have that natural advantage of bowling off-breaks to a left-handed batsman but Dhawan obliged to take him on too, as he smashed 26 runs off the 15 deliveries he faced from him.
His fifty came off just 44 deliveries, which sums up how aggressive he was towards the start of his innings. Although the next fifty came a bit slow, off 53 deliveries, he changed gears once again to give India the kick in the middle overs. He scored 43 runs off his next 18 deliveries and thus, registered his highest score in one day internationals surpassing his previous best of 137. He looked good to score more but he chopped a delivery from Pat Cummins on to his stumps, thus bringing an unfortunate end to an otherwise flawless innings.
The end result might not have been in India’s favour, as Ashton Turner’s whirlwind knock of 87 runs off just 43 deliveries helped Australia to chase down a daunting target of 359 runs. However, Dhawan’s return to form in that manner was a shot in the arm for the Indian team.
In fact, all the criticism and flak he had been coping for the past six months was unfair to him on many grounds. He has done a fabulous job for India in ICC tournaments as indicated by his tally of 1113 runs at an average of 65.47, which include five centuries as well. So doubting his ability to perform again in a World event just because of a minor blip in form doesn’t seem to be fair at all. Now that he has moved past it, India can relax and focus on improving other things in the only match that remains before the start of the show-piece event.
(Prasenjit Dey is a freelance cricket writer. He can be reached at @CricPrasen.The opinions expressed are the author’s own and Indian Spice nor The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)