Focus on struggling Dhawan

Focus on struggling Dhawan

IN RELAXING MOOD: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (left) and Ravindra Jadeja share a light moment during during India's training session at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur on Monday. AFP

A considerable amount of spotlight will be on an out of sorts Shikhar Dhawan as a confident India take on Australia in the second ODI here on Tuesday.

Since the start of the West Indies series at home last October, the opener’s form in the shorter formats has been erratic, a cause for concern for the team management. A player who thrives on confidence and momentum rather than elegant strokes, Dhawan averaged a poor 22.40 in five matches in the home series against the West Indies.

In the three ODIs versus Australia Down Under, he just managed to score 55 runs while in the ensuing trip to New Zealand, he mustered 188 runs in five games. If one includes the T20Is against those two nations, the southpaw hasn’t scored a half-century in his last eight outings with the highest being 30. To make things worse, he got out for a first-ball duck in the opening ODI versus Australia after driving straight to point.

Strangely, Dhawan hasn’t looked uncomfortable despite the barren run. He has been his usual attacking self, playing some rasping shots. His problem though has been shot selection and some ill luck. While he has been a victim of good balls a few times in New Zealand, he’s perished early because of his tendency to tee-off from the word go. 

The southpaw, aware he needs a big knock to regain his stride, sweated it out for nearly 90 minutes at the ‘nets’ on Monday. He first faced Vijay Shankar, Siddarth Kaul and some net bowlers before fronting up to spinners Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav. Then he took throwdowns from Raghu, Sanjay Bangar and the left-handed Nuwan Seneviratne. At the end of it, coach Ravi Shastri had a brief chat with Dhawan, the player all ears to him.

Dhawan apart, India appear to have checked all the boxes and will be favourites to notch up a fourth straight win over the Australians at the VCA Stadium. They suffered a rare top-order failure in the first ODI but MS Dhoni, in sublime form recently, and Kedar Jadhav forged a match-winning unbeaten 141-run stand for the fifth wicket. It was the sort of test the middle-order needed and they passed it quite emphatically.

India have their bases covered well on the bowling front too. Mohammed Shami was brilliant at the start and picked up two crucial wickets during the middle overs while Jasprit Bumrah was top notch at the start and towards the end. Chinaman Kuldeep and Jadeja excelled as well with the only letdown being Shankar. The Tamil Nadu all-rounder has shown his ability with the bat but what the management needs from him is decent 6-7 overs every game. Sadly, he couldn’t deliver with the ball, the military medium pace hardly testing the Aussie batsmen. Shankar obviously can’t increase his pace overnight but if he can inject control, it would help his and the team’s cause.

One the eve of the series, skipper Virat Kohli hinted at more experiments this series. That’s a reason why he started with Jadeja ahead of Chahal. It would be interesting to see if Kohli retains that choice or gives Chahal a game. From the happenings at the ‘nets’, Kohli may not tinker with the batting line-up which means Rishabh Pant may have to warm the benches for another game.

Judging by the Ranji Trophy games, the pitch at Nagpur is expected to be on the slower side with good assistance for spinners. But international games here have been high scoring ones with fans returning home a happy lot. Indian batsmen, especially Dhawan, will be gunning to entertain them while Australia will be desperate to spoil their party and stop things from getting out of control.