One of the many success stories for India in the ongoing ODI series in South Africa has been the Shikhar Dhawan's batting. In five innings, he has scored one century and two fifties, and his lowest score has been 34. He has scored his runs at a superb clip too, getting 305 runs off 276 balls, for a strike rate of 110.5. While most of the attention in the series has been on Virat Kohli - and rightly so, for Kohli has been the stand-out batsman of the tour - Dhawan has once again proved his dependability in the 50-over format, churning out runs in every game.
For Dhawan, the ODI series has been a refreshing contrast from the one Test he played on this tour, when he scored 16 in each innings in Cape Town and was then dropped to make way for KL Rahul. That was a fair call, given Dhawan's form and his record in Tests outside Asia, but with players like him it is vital to keep the format in mind when passing judgements on his capability: Dhawan in Tests is a plunderer of attacks in Asia but not so hot outside Asia; Dhawan in ODIs is a plunderer of attacks in all conditions.
Nothing illustrates this point better than his Test and ODI stats in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa. In 11 Tests in these four countries, Dhawan averages 27.81, with only three 50-plus scores in 22 innings; in 42 ODI innings in these four countries, he averages 51.33 at a strike rate of 95.6, with 16 fifty-plus scores. In Tests, he clearly relishes playing in Asia, but in ODIs, there is no such bias in his stats.
Comparing Dhawan with other Asian batsmen in both Tests and ODIs in these four countries further illustrates the point. In ODIs in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa since the start of 2013, Dhawan is the top run-getter among Asian batsmen, and his numbers are stellar: 2002 runs at an average of 51.33, and a strike rate of 95.6. Combining those two numbers by multiplying the average with the runs scored per ball is a good measure of batting effectiveness in limited-overs matches, and by this measure, Dhawan is third among the 14 batsmen who have scored 700 or more runs in these countries during this period. Only Kumar Sangakkara and Kohli have done better. Rohit Sharma has a similar average but scores at a lesser strike rate, while Misbah-ul-Haq has a higher average but scored his runs far more slowly.
In each of his last four ODI series/tournaments in these countries, Dhawan has averaged more than 50, at 90-plus strike rates. With numbers like these, it is tough to find fault with his consistency in ODIs.
In Tests, though, the story is entirely different. Among the 15 batsmen (Nos. 1-7 in the batting line-up) who have batted 20 or more times in these four countries in this period, only three have a poorer average than Dhawan's 27.81. Rohit is one of them, while Cheteshwar Pujara hasn't done much better either.
*Batsmen in the top 7
Those who have watched Dhawan bat will know that his technique, batting style and temperament are suited to ODIs more than to Tests. He goes hard at the ball, tends to drive at deliveries outside off without much footwork, and doesn't usually try to curb his strokeplay early in the innings. These methods aren't such a problem in ODIs - which are played on flatter pitches with little seam movement - but in Tests there is a much smaller probability of getting away with this technique.
In Tests in these four countries, Dhawan has got out 18 times to pace in 22 innings, at an average of 29.16. His average against spin is even lower, but the sample size is small - only 117 deliveries - and the bowlers who have dismissed him include Robin Peterson and Joe Root, not exactly top names in spin bowling.
In ODIs in these four countries, Dhawan's numbers against pace are far better - he averages 51.66 against them. The flatter conditions and the nature of the game allows him to attack with a lot more freedom than in Tests. His stats against Morne Morkel in the two formats is illustrative: in home Tests against Dhawan, he has figures of 2 for 22 off 51 balls; in ODIs in these four countries, his figures against Dhawan are 2 for 109 in 131 balls. Against spin Dhawan has done even better, which isn't unexpected.
In Tests, Dhawan has often been troubled by the short ball: he doesn't get out of the way convincingly, and neither does he play attacking shots with conviction. Against short and back-of-a-length deliveries off pace bowlers, Dhawan's average in Tests in these four countries is only 16 - he has been dismissed five times, and scored only 80 runs from 193 balls. In ODIs, the average goes up to 57, and the strike rate to more than a run a ball.
In this ODI series, his numbers against the short or back-of-a-length ball are even more impressive: 95 off 85 balls, and dismissed just once. He has scored 29 from 25 such balls from Kagiso Rabada (for one dismissal), while the others haven't dismissed him off those deliveries. On flatter pitches with true bounce, and when batting with an uncluttered and clear mind, Dhawan has done all right against deliveries that have bothered him in Tests. With several overseas series coming up over the next 12 months for India, Dhawan might get more opportunities to rectify those stats in Tests too. If not, he has still done enough to ensure he is an intrinsic part of India's ODI plans, no matter what the conditions.
With inputs from Shiva Jayaraman