Places in the India playing XI have always come at a premium. Reams are written everyday about the permutations and combinations that govern this game of musical chairs. In the last couple of weeks, one of the biggest losers in this game has been opener Shikhar Dhawan.
The left-handed batsman was dropped from the Test squad following a below par outing on India’s tour of England. His relevancy in the limited-overs format was never in doubt, but a string of low scores in the ODI series and then T20I opener had raised concerns.
On Sunday, he dispelled those notions with a career-best 92 in the third T20I against the West Indies. The last-ball win ensured India a 3-0 sweep of the series.
For Dhawan, the knock was crucial as it comes days before the team departs for the high-profile tour of Australia. The 30-year-old is part of the T20 squad and is likely to be included in the ODI team which is yet to be announced.
The knock would have come as a welcome relief for the team management as well, who would have been worried looking at Dhawan’s tapering form in the lead up to the game. With the likes of Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal knocking on the door, there’s no room for error. Making it to the 2019 World Cup squad in priority for most players at this juncture. Australia will provide a glimpse to selectors of how these players can perform on hard overseas wickets.
The failure to launch after a start can eat at a batsman. To do it over and over again, can be frustrating. On Sunday, we saw a different Dhawan. He eased off after the initial charge. Rishabh Pant’s entry helped calm the nerves after wickets fell at the other end.
Incidentally, Pant was struggling through the series too. His poor shot selection was proving to be a bane. His 58-run knock proved crucial as India were left in a precariously place on 45/2 in their chase of 182.
Century stand with Pant
Dhawan and Pant together added 130 runs for the third wicket. It was a neat little end for the duo, who were increasingly looking like the weak links in the set-up. While Pant’s shot selection still remains a worry, his unshakeable confidence allows him to stick to his guns over and over again.
On Sunday, it proved helpful to Dhawan, who was batting at that stage on 27. In this series, Dhawan has been guilty of falling astray after getting a decent start. Pant, though, took the initiative and took up the role of the aggressor almost immediately after marking his crease. Dhawan preferred to keep one end safe and only came into his own towards the end of the innings, nearly taking India home.
The two Delhi lads, who incidentally grew up training under coach Tarak Sinha, a stalwart in Delhi’s cricket coaching circles.
Pant is competing for a place in the World Cup squad as a second keeper with Dinesh Karthik as well. In this series, he has been included only as a batsman. His form wasn’t doing him any favours, but Sunday’s crucial innings could help him stake a claim to the sought-after role.
India’s West Indies series was meant to be a testing ground for talent ahead of overseas assignments. Dhawan, Pant - two important stars of the Indian set-up, were threatening to come out of it with worrying signs. In this last game at home this season, they gave a timely reminder of their true abilities.