Shikhar Dhawan was the leading run-getter in Twenty20 Internationals for India in 2018. (Photo Credit: IANS)
Before the start of the Pune Twenty20 International between India and Sri Lanka at the MCA stadium, there was plenty of doubts surrounding Shikhar Dhawan's ability in Twenty20 Internationals. In 2018, he had ended the year as the leading run-getter in the format but in 2019, he was plagued by poor form and injuries. In Indore, he had struggled to time the ball in his knock of 32 but in Pune, Dhawan employed a different method. He attacked Lasith Malinga, knowing how well the Sri Lanka captain bowls to left-handers with the inswinging delivery. He capitalised on the loose balls and ended up notching up his 10th fifty as India reached a big score. With Dhawan scoring a fifty and with KL Rahul in superb form, the race for the opening slot has intensified with Rohit Sharma being rested for the three-match series.
Even Dhawan acknowledged that the race for the opening spot for the upcoming World T20 in October 2020 in Australia has intensified. "All the three players (Rohit, KL and me) are doing well. Rohit had an excellent 2019. Rahul has been doing well since 1-2 months and he is a good player and 'mei bhi picture mei aaya ga hu, maine bhi aaj acha kar diya hai' (And I have also entered the fray and have done well today). Toh picture achihi ban rahi hai abhi (the picture is looking good), khair yeh sardaredi meri nahi hai (but this is not my headache). So I don't think about it, because that thing is not in my hands. What is in my hands is to perform and play well. I am happy and satisfied that I got two opportunities and was able to express myself. Baki coaches aur captain ke upar hai, toh unki sardadi mei kyun lu? (Rest is on the coaches and the captain, then why should I take their headache)," Dhawan said in the post match press conference.
Dhawan returned to competitive cricket after recovering from a knee injury he sustained during the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. He went through the grinds of domestic cricket, but the Delhi batsman maintained that making a comeback wasn't that difficult. The Delhi opener also acknowledged that having a left and right combination at the top will immensely benefit the side in a major tournament.
"It wasn't difficult (to come back) because I knew I was injured and out for a month. And I accepted that I got injured and I couldn't do much about it. I was happy enjoying my time, doing my rehab and focused on training and got myself fitter and stronger. In the latter half, I prepared myself at the NCA, then played Ranji Trophy and did very well. I have a strong mindset, I prepared well and focused on my process and I am just going to go and express myself," Dhawan said.
The Pune Twenty20 International saw Dhawan taking a different approach. He employed some aerial shots and danced down the wicket to Malinga to counter his inswinging delivery and the slinging angle. The left-hander stressed the need to be more aggressive and play fearless cricket.
Shikhar Dhawan's fifty increases the competition for the opening spot ahead of the World T20. (Image credit: IANS)
"That's my job and we've to take advantage of first six overs (powerplay). Whenever I thought, I can dominate the bowler, I go and do it. To step out or stand and deliver, I do it. Of course (Lasith) Malinga bowls really well against left-handers. He is very consistent with his inswinging yorkers and that's why I changed my strategy right from ball one. I was attacking him as well, rotating the strike. He wasn't giving me that many loose deliveries," Dhawan said.
With the World T20 nine months away, Dhawan wants to ensure that the Indian cricket team tries out the bench strength and rotates the side in order to have a clear understanding of what each players' role is before the start of the marquee tournament. The Sri Lanka series was the ideal platform to try out the experimentation.
"I'm sure the management wants to try players. Today also we wanted to try other players who haven't batted in the series and give them a fair chance because we're only left with five T20 (actually over 12) games. As a team, we wanted to give chance to everyone and that's why they've been rotating players. Till World Cup comes, everyone is refined and know their job as well. In these series we can do the experiment, it is best time to experiment and once we know that this guy is clicking, then we are going to go ahead with those pattern again, because No. 1 2 3 we always know who is going to come. That is why it is important to experiment and we can take that risk right now, like we won the first match," Dhawan said.
India will now play three ODIs against Australia before they head off for a crucial tour of New Zealand which will involve five Twenty20 Internationals, three ODIs and two Tests.