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Where does Shikhar Dhawan go from here?

Shikhar Dhawan hasn’t played international cricket since July. The last assignment was the tour of Sri Lanka, where he had led the limited overs side for a T20I and ODI series, in the absence of the regular players who were engaged in the five-match Test series in England.

Dhawan had a mixed outing on the tour, amassing 128 runs – including an unbeaten 86 – in the three ODI games. In three T20Is, he could score just 86.

Even though he scored 207 in eight innings of the second leg of the IPL for Delhi Capitals, Dhawan was left out of the T20 World Cup 2021 and the T20I series against New Zealand, with selectors insisting that he was ‘rested’.

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So, when the star batter returned to action in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, all eyes were on him.

Featuring for Delhi, the opening batter, however, has had a forgettable outing so far, with just 26 runs in three games. He was gone for a duck in the opening fixture against Jharkhand. And as the national selection committee chairman Chetan Sharma and the IPL scouts watched the proceedings at the I.S. Bindra Stadium, Dhawan was dismissed for 12 in the second game against Hyderabad. Still, there were hopes of a comeback.

But on Saturday against Uttar Pradesh, his woes continued as the star batter could only contribute 14 runs before being trapped leg before by Mohsin Khan at the picturesque Sector 16 Stadium.

So, where does Dhawan go from here?

With the Indian team set to play an ODI series against South Africa in January next year, a section of the cricket fraternity was of the impression that Dhawan’s seniority and experience could come in handy. But given his form, does he stand a chance?

Former India batter and erstwhile head coach Anshuman Gaekwad believes that for a quality cricketer like Dhawan, ‘one good innings’ can change everything.

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“It all depends on how selectors look at it. I believe form can change but class remains, and batters like Shikhar need just one good innings to strike form. Sometimes, you have a bad patch and it has happened to the best of the players, including Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath. In that phase, no matter what you try, you just don’t get the result,” Gaekwad told Sportstar.

Having worked with several cricketers in the past, Gaekwad understands what the players go through in such rough phases.

“In such times, it is important for some soul searching. You cannot exactly pinpoint what it is – whether it is mental, technical- and such things happen. You have to hang in there and ensure that one innings comes soon. If need be, take a break and start afresh,” Gaekwad added.

Former wicketkeeper-batter and ex-national selector Saba Karim is aware of the fact that the competition is intense with several youngsters vying for one slot. But he believes it is important to persist with Dhawan ahead of the South Africa tour.

“That’s what makes the draw more challenging and exciting. There have been phases in the past when Shikhar has been under pressure, but he has come out and has done quite well. Such healthy competitions should spur Shikhar to do well,” Karim said.

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While Dhawan has not been among runs in the Vijay Hazare Trophy so far, Delhi still has a couple of group matches left. “This is such a great occasion for him to strike form. Delhi still has two matches to go and if the team qualifies for the knockouts, he will get some more opportunities. This is the right time for him to get back to scoring runs.”

Karim, who until last year was the BCCI’s General Manager, Game Development, feels that in ODI cricket, Dhawan “still has so much to offer.”

“With the kind of experience he has over the past several years and the kind of performances he has put in, he remains a reliable opener. To get that left-hand, right-hand combination, I would still back Shikhar. I can understand, he is going through a tough phase. At times, you need to unwind a little bit and try and focus again and I am sure Shikhar can do that,” Karim said.

“At least for South Africa, I would still keep him in the mix and see how it goes for the next couple of series…”

In the past, Dhawan has battled the odds to make incredible comebacks. With the national selectors still taking some time before naming the ODI squad for the South Africa tour, all is not lost for the swashbuckling opener.

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