Once a regular in the Indian XI across formats, Shikhar Dhawan is now on a comeback mission. Weighed down by injuries and indifferent form with the willow, the Delhi opener is no longer an automatic choice for the five wise men of Indian cricket.
Having unleashed himself into cricketing consciousness with a blistering 187 against Australia, no less, Dhawan, or ‘Gabbar’ as his teammates and fans call him, eventually fell out of favour with the five wise men in the longest form. His maiden ton, off 174 balls, stands as the fastest by a batsman on Test debut.
A run of poor scores, especially in overseas Test matches, saw him drop out of contention and eventually lose his spot to KL Rahul. Once primed for greatness in the longest form like his Delhi counterpart Virender Sehwag or the burly Australian Matthew Hayden, Shikhar Dhawan’s Test match career was suddenly at a crossroads. His last Test century, 107, came against minnows Afghanistan at the Chinnaswamy in June 2014. For a batsman of his calibre, just 7 centuries in 34 Tests is a humble return.
Undone by Injury
An extended injury lay-off put paid to his hopes of going back to domestic cricket in a bid to put himself back in the reckoning. His lone Ranji appearance for Delhi last year was against Hyderabad where he scored 140 and 21.
In fact, it would be fair to say that injuries proved to be his undoing last year. He missed a couple of round-robin matches of 2019 World Cup through injury, sat out the Syed Mushtaq Ali (domestic T20) trophy nursing a wound and also missed the third ODI in the home series against Australia after picking up a niggle.
What didn’t help his cause further was that while Rahul took his place in the Test team on the weight of his prolific scores in domestic cricket, Mayank Agarwal, another heavy scorer in Ranji cricket, managed to hold down a regular place for himself as the other opener with a string of brilliant performances.
A window of opportunity did open for the burly Delhi southpaw as Rahul failed to make good on his promise in the longest form. However, when Rahul eventually lost his place in the Test side after a string of inconsistent performances, the selectors went with Rohit Sharma, handing him a fresh lease in the longest form of the game. It was as good as slamming the door on Dhawan’s face.
The stylish right-hander took his opportunity with both hands, scoring back-to-back centuries against South Africa during the Test series at home last year. It appears the selectors will continue with him as one of the openers in the upcoming series against Australia.
Can’t be written off
So, where does Dhawan go from here? He is not an even an automatic choice in one-day and Twenty20 internationals these days as Rohit and Rahul are almost an inseparable opening pair in the shorter versions now. However, he had a fruitful IPL last year, totalling 521 runs, the fourth highest in the tournament. With Rohit sitting out the recent home Twenty20 series against Sri Lanka, Dhawan got a chance to redeem himself in the shortest format. However, a run of modest scores was all that he could manage in the three-match series.
At 34, age is certainly not on Shikhar Dhawan’s side. However, he is a proven performer, especially in the shorter formats and has an imperious record in major ICC tournaments. He was voted Man of the Series in India’s 2013 Champions Trophy win in England. He aggregated 363 runs in the tournament, the highest by any batsmen.
He’s still among the fittest in Indian cricket and should make it to the squad for the upcoming Twenty20 World Cup next year based on his reputation and previous performances in the shortest format.
Weighing in on Shikhar Dhawan’s chances of making a comeback in India colours in the longest form of the game, former India opener Akash Chopra said during a Q&A session on his YouTube channel, “Never say never. He might get an opportunity but will he get it that soon? I don’t think it will happen quickly because yesterday only I picked a squad of 30 players. When I was jotting down Test openers I wrote Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw.”
Let’s just say it’s too early to write his cricketing epitaph. The Gabbars of this world don’t go away easy.