The series stands at 2-0 in favour of NZ after India lost the first two ODIs in Napier and Hamilton, while the third ODI at Auckland finished in a scintillating last-ball tie | AP
To go by camera frames alone, Shikhar Dhawan’s dismissals thus far in the New Zealand series have little in common. In Napier his intended pull took the top edge and looped down to the square-leg fielder. Two days later, in Hamilton, he was yorked by Tim Southee. In Auckland, he shimmied down the strip and swatted a short-ball straight to the deep mid-wicket sentinel.
Pause and rewind. Stop whenever he faces short-pitched bowling. He hasn’t always gotten out to it. But so tenuous has he been that he, once all authority and audacity, seems only a ball away from hitting the pavilion tread. And this has been central to his riches-to-rags tale, to all his present misery. Since the South Africa tour he has been so weathered down by this brand of bowling that his judgment and footwork seems in absolute disarray.
To negate the at-your-rib-cage barrage, he has tended to move deeper than he usually does at the crease. This, in turn, has affected his front-foot strokes. For, he is hardly ever to the pitch of even routine half volleys. He was caught completely unawares in Hamilton, wherein his belated defensive prod against Southee’s fuller ball made a mockery of textbook conventions. A slightly open-stance hasn’t helped him either (wiser men have successfully deployed the two-eyed stance).
So psyched out has he been by the rising deliveries that he has tried every method bats-manly possible to get himself out of the confines. He has tried to scrape, scratch, and in Auckland, he sought the more aggressive approach, but nonetheless perished. Even the boundaries he scored in this tour were achieved in less convincing manner — mostly uncontrolled wafts outside the off-stump.
The seeds of doubts were sown in South Africa, where Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel sized his batting up with probing spells of sustained hostility that interrogated his technique. The Kiwi bowlers haven’t been as demonising, but it is as though he sees Steyn and Morkel rushing up to him. It now seems as much technical as mental a block.
The genesis of his nightmarish run has been his inability to adjust. “Shikhar was quite a handful in ODIs in India. We can say he is a product of this environment, where a certain things worked for him. Whether these things will work in different conditions is something we will have to see. He is different from Murali Vijay, who is not loose and plays close to the body. Shikhar has to adjust. The things that worked for him in India may not work abroad,” opined former Test opener Aakash Chopra.
In the domestic circuit, he is known as an impulsive puller. But whereas in the subcontinent he mostly met the short-pitched balls at his hips, in South Africa and New Zealand they were flying chest-high. “The balls come faster and higher. That makes a lot of difference. And he hasn’t been able to adjust to that. And unless he makes those adjustments, he will always struggle in overseas conditions,” reckoned former Test opener Chetan Chauhan.