It's been said several times over the last five years that the end is near for Shikhar Dhawan. But to his credit he has bounced back every time to prove the critics wrong. However to all intents and purposes, the present form of the batsman is stressing fans out and, god forbid, could prove damaging beyond repair.
Dhawan is already of out of Test contention: he was dropped from the format following 166 runs in four games against hosts England last year at a heart-breaking average of 20.25.
When a big player like Dhawan is done away with from a particular format, it is largely not because of lack of runs, it is rather because of not looking in control at the crease. In those Test matches, Dhawan batted nothing like himself and it was a fair call from the selectors when he was shown the door.
He may have felt disappointed but there was still so much cricket left in him especially in white-ball cricket.
In November 2019, months after scoring a match-winning ton against Australia in the World Cup before a thumb fracture limited his participation in the marquee event to only two matches, Dhawan finds himself in a similar situation, like after the England Tests last year.
In the T20Is against hosts West Indies some time after the World Cup, Dhawan came up with unimpressive scores of 1, 23 and 3. Just three games for a player coming back from injury, so no panic buttons were pressed. There were ODIs to follow… he would make a big point there — that's what everyone thought. All fans got in the end were scores of 2 and 36 from him. Since India won both the rubbers 2-0 and 3-0 respectively, his batting performance was largely ignored.
When South Africa toured India shortly after, Dhawan scored 40 and 36 in two T20Is. His performance definitely improved but it escaped most observers' attention that it had been almost a year since he had scored a fifty in international cricket's shortest format. The top order players are not there to contribute Lilliputian 30s or 40s! The real alarm bells, however, rang for Dhawan during the home T20I series Bangladesh that ended a couple of days ago. The three T20Is changed the light in which he was seen before.
In the absence of big players, especially Virat Kohli, one would expect a senior player like Dhawan to put his hand up and ensure India sail through against a relatively weak opposition. But no... that wasn't the case. With scores of 41 (42 balls), 31 (27 balls), and 19 (16 balls), Dhawan fell way short of what was expected of him. He was too slow for an opener with an overall strike rate of 107.05.
"Questions will be raised on Shikhar Dhawan if he doesn't bat well in the next 2 matches. The team is not going to benefit if you're scoring 40-45 runs from the same number of balls. He will have to think about this. When players come back after the gap, it does take a lot of time to get back the rhythm," former India opener Sunil Gavaskar had spoken scathingly of Dhawan after India conceded the first game to Bangladesh. The 33-year-old left-hander had played 15 dots, amounting to two and a half overs — too many for T20s.
What was particularly distressing in that match was his responding to a call for second from Rishabh Pant when he himself could clearly see that there was no second. Being a senior member, one would actually expect him to guide Pant; it shouldn’t be the other way round. As Gavaskar had feared, Dhawan failed to make much of an impression in the next two matches as well but thankfully the other team members rose to the occasion to fight back and win the series 2-1.
The next big event that's coming up for international teams limited-overs cricket is the 2020 World T20 in Australia. Teams are already making preparations having that in mind. India are no different. With so many promising players waiting in the wings -- KL Rahul has already opened quite a few times and Sanju Samson has good experience of opening in the Indian Premier League -- one can imagine the kind of pressure Dhawan must be under at present. Right now when even MS Dhoni doesn't appear to be getting any preferential treatment from the selectors, it's unlikely Dhawan will be borne with much longer. Time is indeed running out for him. The limited-overs matches against the West Indies and Sri Lanka in December and January will be make-or-break opportunities for him. If he doesn't do well there, it's unlikely he will be given more chances. Dhawan Fans will be an anxious lot over the next few months, no doubt about that!
As Ishant Sharma said recently "Now I only think... if I don’t take wickets even in one innings I’m done. I’m not going to play for India again". Maybe Dhawan needs to adopt the same approach.