Punjab Kings captain Shikhar Dhawan’s batting this season has reignited the T20 debate over the place of batters who look to stick around for a large part of the innings. While getting your eye in before accelerating remains the prescribed way to build One-Day International innings, proponents of one view of T20 batting would dismiss the above method as an anachronism in a format where one inning constitutes merely 40 per cent of the total number of balls that make up one ODI innings.
The Kings’ batting unit is built around the likes of Liam Livingstone, Shahrukh Khan and Bhanuka Rajapaksa, who have fashioned their game on clearing the ropes with regularity. But the pursuit of short, sharp and aggressive innings from the core is fraught with risks and can backfire. That’s where Dhawan has been good so far. He has managed to mitigate the implicit dangers of mounting waves of attack by attempting to bat through with a gradually increasing tempo, to not compromise on the team plan of high offence.
It is evident in his running between the wickets and boundary-hitting. Dhawan has 225 runs in three matches, with 70 per cent coming through boundaries and only 30 via ones and twos.
These are still early days in the season, but the signs are promising. Last year, Dhawan’s running between the wickets contributed close to 44 per cent to his overall tally. That percentage has dropped significantly already in 2023.
Another notable difference in Dhawan’s approach has been his middle-overs strike rate. He is hitting at close to 149 between overs 7 and 16 this IPL, while it was a lowly 122.66 during the same phase last season.
There are days when Dhawan’s penchant to bat through arrests the slide of wickets, like against Sunrisers Hyderabad in the last match. PBKS was in danger of being dismissed for less than 100, but Dhawan carried his side to a fighting total with his second successive half-century.
In doing so, he became only the second player to be part of all 10 partnerships in an IPL innings. Not to forget, given the number of times IPL playoff qualifications have hinged on Net Run Rates, it’s important that Punjab has a batter who can act as a failsafe for this boom-or-bust strategy.
PBKS’ interests will be aligned with Dhawan’s, so long as the latter can maintain the tempo through the innings. Where Punjab’s batting suffered last year was the contradiction in the PowerPlay and death-overs batting. It had the highest run rate in PowerPlay among all 10 teams, but the worst run-rate in the death overs. Finishing was its Achilles Heel.
Punjab, slightly, needs more top-order solidity because its preferred bowlers like Nathan Ellis, Rahul Chahar, and Arshdeep Singh can struggle to contribute with the bat. And if Dhawan can find an able ally at the death, Punjab could set the tone in batting high press this year.