Sh9okhar Dhawan didn’t do well in South Africa © Getty Images
Shikhar Dhawan fell just two runs short of scoring his third century in Test cricket on February 15, 2014 against New Zealand in the second Test in Wellington. This could also have been his second century in as many matches, but he should not get bogged down on failing to do so. In the current Test series in New Zealand, Dhawan has shown another side of his game. Shrikant Shankar believes the Indian opener should look to build on this as it will be highly beneficial to India, let alone Dhawan himself.
The One-Day International (ODI) series did not go well for India as they lost 4-0. Shikhar Dhawan was dropped for the fourth ODI and that showed his initial struggles in alien conditions. In India, Dhawan has been very successful. On pitches that favour the batsmen heavily, Dhawan can be brutal on the bowlers. But in conditions that help the bowlers, it isn’t easy to play your natural game. He exceeded brilliantly in the ICC Champions Trophy 2013, but the conditions in England at that time suited the batsmen.
Dhawan also had a below-par series in South Africa. Talks had already begun on whether he could survive in Test cricket in away conditions. To make matters worse, Dhawan was squared up by Trent Boult during the third delivery of India’s first innings in the first Test against New Zealand in Auckland. He tried to work the ball towards mid-wicket, but edged the out-swinger to gully. India began their second innings with a 301-tun deficit.
They lost Murali Vijay early and things looked bleak. But Dhawan played a slightly uncharacteristic innings the second time around. He was intent on facing as many deliveries as he could just to get used to the pace of the wicket and also get adjusted to the swing and movement off the surface. He left the ball well and played with a rather straighter bat. He is known better for his cross-batted strokes through the off side. This helped him get runs on a wicket which helped seamers.
Since it was in the second innings, the wicket began to dry up and became easier to bat on. But it was still not an easy wicket to bat on as only Virat Kohli got a score above 50 apart from Dhawan. The left-handed batsman went onto score 115 runs in 211 deliveries. Compare that to his Test debut, where he scored 187 runs in only 174 deliveries against Australia in Mohali on a flat track. Before this Test, Dhawan has largely looked like hitting his way out of trouble rather than building an innings.
What is more important to note is that his second century came in the fourth innings of the match as India were chasing a 407-run target. They only fell short by 40 runs. Towards the later part in his innings, Dhawan began to accelerate and increased his strike-rate. He got out to a very good delivery from Neil Wagner. In the second Test in Wellington, Dhawan almost scored his third century. India already bowled out New Zealand for 192 on Day One. The conditions were ideal for swing bowling and as Ishant Sharma led India’s charge taking career-best figures of six for 51. New Zealand had two bowlers in Boult and Tim Southee who were very good exponents of swing bowling. Vijay again fell early as Southee made the ball come in from a very wide angle to graze Vijay’s gloves en route to wicketkeeper BJ Watling. The reliable Cheteshwar Pujara also was beaten by the swing of Boult.
Dhawan again used the full face of his bat to combat the swing. He scored at a moderate speed to near his half-century. He then struck two fours and a six in-a-row as he completed his half-century. After that, he scored more quickly and raced to 71 off 87 deliveries at the close of play on Day One. On Day Two, Dhawan continued his good scoring rate as he struck four fours to get to 98. He went for a drive on the up, but edged a length delivery from Southee to Watling. He was out after facing 127 deliveries. His strike-rate was a healthy 77.16. Dhawan had hit 14 fours and one six in his innings.
Again he showed his temperament in the same innings. This was a much more fluent innings than the one in Auckland, but both of those knocks have highlighted a different side to Dhawan’s temperament. He has shown that he has the appetite to stick around during the beginning of an innings and build a large edifice. He has also scored runs in alien conditions now and that is a feather in his cap.
Dhawan has what it takes to really make it big in Test and international cricket. His new found approach to batting in Test cricket bodes well for India in the coming future as they play some important series away from home. This is a young team and relatively inexperienced, so, they need most of their players adapting quickly to foreign conditions. Dhawan has the mettle to last long in Test cricket. He just has to apply himself and if he bats long enough, the runs will surely come quickly.
(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)