When the BCCI announced India’s 15-man squad for the 2017 edition of the Champions Trophy starting June 1st, a majority of the fans and pundits expressed their disappointment over the selection of Shikhar Dhawan in place of players like Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa and the young prodigy Rishabh Pant.
The reason behind that was Dhawan’s woeful form in the past year in all formats of international cricket. However, little did anyone notice his string of good performances with the bat in IPL 2017.
Eclipsed by Warner but handy nonetheless
When someone like David Warner is batting at one end, the spotlight always remains on him and people hardly notice someone like Dhawan who provides the calming effect at the other end. Warner may have ended up as the highest run-scorer in the recently concluded IPL, however, people have forgotten to acknowledge the contribution of Dhawan who finished as the second-best with the bat in the tournament.
Dhawan’s numbers of 479 runs in 14 matches at an average of 36.84 and strike rate of 127.39 in this edition of the IPL are quite hard to ignore. His strike rate was the best since the 2014 edition of the IPL, indicating that he has worked a lot on his technique.
Match winning knocks
His first fifty of this edition of the tournament came against the Delhi Daredevils when Warner was dismissed cheaply for just 4. Dhawan went on to anchor the innings as Kane Williamson bludgeoned his way to 89 off 51 balls at the other end.
Although Dhawan played a crucial knock of 70 (50) in that match, it was the Kiwi skipper who stole the limelight. And when the southpaw notched up his highest score of 77 against the Kings XI Punjab, he made sure it came at a brisk rate.
His most important knock of the tournament came towards the end of the league stages against the Mumbai Indians. An unbeaten 62 off 46 deliveries guided the Sunrisers Hyderabad to a 7-wicket victory against the Mumbai side on a pitch that was difficult to bat on. And that innings showed that he is in really good form and also that he could be a vital part of India’s Champions Trophy defence this time around.
A proven phenomenon in England and his love for major ICC Tournaments
Dhawan is also a proven phenomenon in England. He was the leading run-scorer in India’s Champions Trophy-winning campaign in 2013. He struck two centuries and a half-century to end with 363 runs in five matches at a staggering average of 90.75. And that is probably another reason why the selectors went for him instead of Gambhir and Uthappa. Going to venues where one has done well in the past can be a huge confidence booster and Dhawan will definitely look to perform well again.
Moreover, the 31-year-old has been the most successful batsman in India’s last two major ICC tournaments – Champions Trophy 2013 and World Cup 2015. Despite not being in good form before the 2015 edition of the World Cup, Dhawan still managed to emerge as India’s leading run-scorer in their run to the semi-finals. He smashed 412 runs in eight matches at an average of 51.50 and was also the 5th highest run-scorer in the tournament.
Partnership with Rohit Sharma
The above-mentioned facts prove that Dhawan steps up in major ICC tournaments. Moreover, his partnership with Rohit Sharma at the top has been very successful in the past and the selectors obviously don’t want to tinker with that. After all, the duo has given Indian fans numerous joyful moments with some monumental opening stands.
They understand and complement each other’s game very well and that has been the reason for their success in ODI cricket.
They are the third most successful opening pair for India behind Ganguly-Tendulkar and Sehwag-Tendulkar. They have amassed 2450 runs in 54 innings at an average of 46.22 which is the second best ODI opening average for Indian openers after Ganguly and Tendulkar averaged 49.32.
Dhawan’s consistent opening stands with Rohit were the main reason for India’s success in 2013 and they will hope for similar showings this time around as well.
A successful CT 2017 on the cards
Dhawan may not have been in the best of form in international cricket in the past couple of years. However, 3090 runs in 76 ODIs at an average of 42.92 suggest that he has more or less been a consistent performer with the bat.
He looks solid and has added a couple of new shots to his arsenal. People may still argue that selecting him for the Champions Trophy this time may not prove to be as fruitful as last time around, however, if we consider his form, mental shape, temperament and confidence, he seems to be all set to enjoy a successful campaign starting next month.
(This Opinion Piece first appeared in the Sportskeeda on May 28, 2017)