In cricket, and especially in batting, numbers are given an overwhelming importance. The best way for a batsman to prove his worth to the world is by burying the doubts under the sheer weight of runs.
However, some batsmen are excused from this rule. With them, you don’t always see how many runs they scored but how they scored them. Such batsmen are like a half loaded gun. You press the trigger. It would either fire or it won’t. But if it does fire, the opposition has no chance of survival.
When thinking of these men, a name that pops in mind is Virender Sehwag. He was a gamble that all his captains loved to take. He was the slayer, the guy who messes with the minds of the opposition so bad, they don’t realize what hit them. And while they grope to find their lost wits, the other batsmen make merry and take the game.
In Sehwag’s absence, Team India has found his fellow Delhi batsman to play a similar role. Shikhar Dhawan. While the comparisons between the two have become clichéd, the similarity in their roles and their impact cannot be ignored.
Here are some numbers. All of Shikhar’s six ODI centuries have come in winning causes and only twice out of the nine times that he has scored a half-century, have India ended on the losing side.
The last among those hundreds is his 113 (107 balls) in the first ODI of the series against Sri Lanka, in Cuttack.
After Shikhar and Ajinkya Rahane got off to a cautious start, it was the left-hander who broke the shackles with four fours and a six in the space of six balls spanning the 21st and 22nd overs. The pressure was immediately on the bowling unit and Ajinkya fed off it by smashing five boundaries spread across eight balls he faced in the next three overs.
At the end of the match that India took by 169 runs, Shikhar spoke about the similarity of his role in the team to that which was played by Sehwag. He opened up about the challenges of the role and why he doesn’t mind taking them on.
This was your first international century since February. Does it feel like a monkey off your back?
It’s amazing to finally have scored a century after a long time. I did score a couple of 90s – a 96 in Sri Lanka and 97* in England. It would have been wonderful to have reached the three-figure mark there but it didn’t happen. I am glad to have broken that trend today and getting to the hundred. Hope this form continues.
There were a few miscues early in the innings and the ball didn’t seem to come well. What was happening?
The wicket was a bit damp in the beginning and it was seaming. They were good conditions for the bowlers and keeping that in mind, Ajinkya and I batted really well. The main aim was to not lose a wicket because it wasn’t a typical Indian pitch – the ball was moving and cutting. So we decided to play with caution. The good thing was despite that we managed 40-odd runs in the first 10 overs.
Because of your batting style you have often drawn comparisons with Virender Sehwag. Is your role similar in the team – that of scoring impact runs?
You’ve hit the nail on the head there. Viru pa’s role in the team was to flay and demoralize the bowling group with his attack. He was supposed to disturb their plans and thrash their confidence. It’s true that I have been given a similar role in the team. When you are an impact player, you also take more risks. But the day you get going, the team wins.
With batsmen like you, everyone has to accept the fact that you won’t be as consistent as the others. Have you accepted that?
Personally I want to score runs in every match but obviously that doesn’t happen. The team management has given me that role knowing that my game and my character are suited for it. In today’s game you need batsmen who can play with the bowlers’ psyche and gain advantage for their own team. You have to be aggressive do be able to do that and also sacrifice a bit on your consistency. And the team understands that. My team certainly does, and they back me to the hilt. Although I want to score runs in every match, I feel secure in the knowledge that even if I don’t, my team will stand by me.
For batsmen like you confidence plays a major role in your performances. Do you have to try and make a conscious effort of not losing your self confidence even when runs are not coming?
While batting out there, you shouldn’t be thinking about that. Once you get in the flow of run-scoring, the confidence comes automatically. If you make a conscious effort, you’ll get mentally tired quickly and put unwarranted stress on yourself. So, I don’t believe in over-thinking those things. I just like to go with the flow.
What was the reason behind taking the batting powerplay in 23rd over? Was it your and Ajinkya’’s decision or the team management’s?
It was the decision of our new captain and the team management and I really liked it that they tried something innovative. When you do something new like this, it catches the opposition unaware. It may or might not work but to try something new is always a good thing. The game is constantly changing and it pays to be open-minded. If you never try, you’ll never know what it’s worth.
Generally an ODI innings slows down in the middle overs. Does taking the batting powerplay early force you to keep the run-rate high?
Absolutely. In the five overs before that we were scoring really quickly. So, when we got into that flow we took the powerplay to maintain it. Our scoring rate went higher and we felt like we were batting in the 40th over. Taking the powerplay early was the reason why we put up such big total on the board.