Shikhar Dhawan: Anchor or Aggressive Opener? Which role suits Punjab Kings (PBKS) more? Shikhar Dhawan has been anchoring innings for PBKS from last two games.
Punjab Kings have started well in IPL 2023, registering two wins out of two matches so far. Although it is still early stages of the tournament, Punjab Kings would take heart from the fact that their new skipper Shikhar Dhawan is leading from the front, with knocks of 29-ball 40 and 56-ball 86 not out in the two games.
The two knocks have come at a healthy strike rate of 137.93 and 153.57. But both these innings have seen Dhawan playing an anchor, trying to bat through the innings. He had let his opening partner Prabhsimran Singh (12-ball 23 and 34-ball 60) do the bulk of the scoring at a fast pace in the powerplay, while Dhawan anchored the innings, only to accelerate later to give the necessary impetus to the total, and thus improving his strike rate.
It is extremely uncharacteristic for Dhawan to play an anchor as he is more of an attacking opening batter who not only gives the necessary quick starts but also bats at a good strike rate. So, what is propelling Dhawan to change his natural game and play an anchor to guide his team through?
What is forcing Dhawan to go anchor? Captaincy or lack of support cast?
Overall, in 208 IPL matches, Dhawan has a strike rate of 126.72 – not so great for an opener in this tournament. But Dhawan cannot be judged on this number as he has proven over 15 IPL seasons, he has the competence to take a bowling attack apart in a matter of overs. He loves to go after the bowlers in the powerplay, taking the aerial route from word go, to give his team a flying start.
But that is not happening as seen in the two games he has captained Punjab Kings in IPL 2023. He has batted around his fellow opener Prabhsimran Singh and other batters to follow only to go after the bowlers later in the innings to boost the team’s total and his strike rate.
First, it could be that captaincy has added an extra responsibility on Dhawan’s shoulders of leading the team’s total to a competitive score when batting first. And hence, he is looking to ensure that he bats as long as possible and explodes only when needed.
Second, what is making Dhawan restrained from hitting top gear from the word go is that there is a lack of a suitable anchor to do the job he is doing for his team. If he adopts an aggressive approach at the top and gets out early, it could be possible the innings folds up early as there is no efficient anchor to do the job.
Shikhar Dhawan could have continued with his attacking game at the top if Jonny Bairstow, who is out of the tournament due to injury, or Liam Livingstone, yet to arrive in India for IPL, would have been available to play the anchor role in the middle-order. Bhanuka Rajapaksa could have been ideal for this role of an anchor at No.3, but an injury has put a question mark on how soon he could return to play for Punjab Kings. Besides, Indian players such as Jitesh Sharma or M Shahrukh Khan in the middle order lack the international experience to do that job for the team.
So, unless either of Liam Livingstone and Bhanuka Rajapaksa returns to the Punjab XI, fans could see Dhawan batting through the innings to keep one end up, while others bat around him.
Punjab Kings play Sunrisers Hyderabad in their next fixture at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad on April 9.