It has been exactly 636 days since Shikhar Dhawan last wore the Indian whites, in the series against England, batting alongside KL Rahul. However, since then, his future has more or less looked cold, with the southpaw establishing himself as more of a white-ball specialist.
Since the 2018 struggle in the seaming and swinging conditions of England, the southpaw has found himself in a rather precarious position, completely phased out of the team set-up in the longest format. While his weakness with the late in-swinger and the gentle out-swinger made the bowlers find him out more often than not, his fitness, too, has not really helped his cause. Following that series, the Delhi opener has been ruled out with an injury every fourth month, something which put his Test position and place in a muddle, coupled with the success of the other openers in the country. If it was any other opener in the country, there would be no arguments but just condolences for the player and his red-ball career, but here, we are talking about Shikhar Dhawan.
On his debut, the lanky opener swung his bat and the Australian bowlers danced to his tune, scoring a scintillating 187 with a strike-rate of over 107.47. More importantly, at Mohali, his right-hand, yes, right-hand, moved in a way that reminded several of Virender Sehwag. Right when it reminded them of the right-hander, his innings during the latter part too was reminiscent of the former opener - with the foot moving away from the delivery. That was where he was found out and people called it a final nail in his coffin. Everything seemed to be heading in that direction until Dhawan recently came out and admitted that he is trying hard to make his way back to the top of the order in whites.
At the age of 34, is it possible?
The statement is very simple - in terms of the words used to describe the series of events. But, if you look closely at it, it would give you another story, another epilogue, which would suggest that this man is not going to give up on the chase. Importantly, the question is, at the age of 34, can he really get himself back in the running for the over-crowded place at the top of the order in Tests? By over-crowded, we are obviously pointing out the host of names that have made themselves like a bear-figure, be it the youngsters Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill or the more experienced pros, at least at the domestic level, Mayank Agarwal, Abhimanyu Easwaran and Priyank Panchal. Not to forget, a Don Bradman-like figure at home in the form of Rohit Sharma.
But why are we bringing up this in 2020, two years post-Dhawan's exile, in the age of the new generation batsmen? In the 34 Tests the 34-year-old has played, he has piled on 2315 runs at an average of 40.61, facing a total of 3458 deliveries. More than the runs column, it would be integral to look at the balls faced column, in the Test format. As an opener, he has faced 1.49 deliveries for every run he has scored in his career, which indicates that he always gets the team off to a good start. A point of concern, however, for the critics was the southpaw’s numbers outside the country. Away from home, neither of the current openers for the Indian team - Mayank Agarwal or Prithvi Shaw - have done anything substantial to cement their place forever in the lineup. In comparison, not only Dhawan has better numbers but in all kinds of conditions, too.
Who are the competitors?
Against New Zealand away from home, a team whose home domination has been well-noted of, the southpaw has pretty impressive numbers, given that he has only been part of the lineup for two Tests against the Kiwis. In four innings versus the Blackcaps in Kiwiland, Dhawan has piled on 215 runs for the Indian team, scoring at an average of 53.75, including a high-score of 115. In the recently-concluded series, when the two sides met each other, Dhawan’s competitor at the top-order, Mayank was the highest run-scorer for the visitors - scoring a total 102 runs across two Tests, averaging 25.50, with just one fifty. Another factor that would be considered when looking at the southpaw’s comeback into the Test team would be his conversion rate in the longest format. Conversion rates are often very integral to an opener in the five-day format, purely on the basis of how long one could bat on how much pain one could inflict on the opposition.
Whilst his red-ball career has been a rather short one, in comparison to his white-ball career, Dhawan's conversion rate, however, has been pretty impressive. The Delhi opener, in 34 Tests, has a conversation rate of 58.3% and when it is compared to his competitors - Mayank and KL Rahul - it is a god-like figure. While Mayank has a 42.8% conversion rate from 50s to 100s, Rahul only has 31.25, which does not really put him in great light. That he is now looked at as a valuable limited-overs asset, with him taking up wicket-keeping duties, also works against Rahul's favour.
What about Ranji Trophy performers?
Shubman Gill has been hailed as a protege, often compared to some of the wonderkids around the world. While he has made his appearance for the national team in the 50-over format, his name has always done the rounds for a place in whites. One of the biggest reasons for all the hush-push is his alien-like scores on the domestic circuit.
Every challenge he has taken on in the four-day domestic format has resulted in him succeeding as a player, excelling as a top-order batsman. The 20-year-old batsman from Fazilka has an average which tops his strike-rate, at 73.55 over 73.37. In just 34 innings, he has scored 2133 runs - numbers that are simply absurd. For such a prolific cricketer, surely, this number must match with his conversion rate in the domestic format, right? Unfortunately, he does not tick the box on that front as he only converts 41.17% of his fifties into tons, in comparison to Dhawan’s 46.29% in first-class cricket.
The other two competitors in the bracket? Priyank Panchal and Abhimanyu Easwaran. Gujarat’s Priyank Panchal has pretty numbers but lack of form combined with the no experience in the international scene sees him fall a bit behind in the pecking order. Bengal’s skipper Abhimanyu Easwaran, too, is one of the front-runners for the position but his form, too, has seen a major dip in the recent season, where he has lost his consistency. He does, however, have a 41.9% conversion rate in the Ranji Trophy.
At the age of 34, age, form and injury concerns have proved problematic for Dhawan’s comeback into the team. However, given it was only a few years ago that a certain another left-handed opener from Delhi made his Test comeback at the age of 34, surely Dhawan would be waiting, eager to push his case for a return to the national side. What separates the Delhi cricketer from his competitors is the fact that he's already proved his worth in the longest format, for India. However, what he would need to do in order to don the whites again is perhaps play a complete season, or even half a season, of Ranji Trophy and pile on the runs, depending on the scheduling for Delhi. That coupled with him staying fit for a sustained period of time, for all we know, might, after all, open the door for Dhawan making a comeback into the Test side. Right when Rohit, at the same age, is making his mark on Test cricket, we are talking about one exiting the format, which in no case is fair.
Cricket FootBall Kabaddi