A non-existent shuffle, an unpronounced back-foot thrust, Shikhar Dhawan transgresses the classical method of cutting a cricket ball off a seamer. Rather, he makes a half-forward press, then waits for the ball, still and upright at the crease, before leaning back to flay the ball behind the point fielder or even finer, more of a slap than a cut. Apter still, a slap-cut. Depending on the bounce of the ball, he rides it or gets underneath. Anything that keeps climbing over his chest, he gets underneath and creams it over third-man. Anything lower, he plays it squarer, closer to backward point than third-man.
It’s unconventional, in that more classical batsmen get the back foot across so that the gap between the body and bat is minimised, which automatically means more control, less risk of an edge and a wider scoring arc.
Dhawan, conversely, can look a bit messy when he executes the shot, with his feet in the air and the bat meeting the ball diagonally than horizontally. He’s still moving when he plays the shot — again against the cricketing grain — but quick hands and bat speed enable him to get the power and placement on his shot. Also, he doesn’t lose his head position — it hardly droops and is often right under the ball — or balance.
A classic instance of this shot was an upper-cut off Stuart Broad in the 2013 Champions Trophy final. The ball was wide and bouncy, more back-of-a-length than short, and Dhawan skipped and jigged into a slash, smearing him up and over the third-man boundary.
His legs are so high in the air that you fear he would overbalance upon landing. But he lands smoothly — courtesy those strong thighs he pats after taking catches and knees. It’s a stroke he productively used in England in the last two editions of the Champions Trophy. That is also because in England these days, there’s hardly any sharp bounce or swing.
It’s a stroke, he says, he manufactured to counter the bouncer barrage he had to endure in the initial stages of his career, and thus make the bowlers bowl to his strengths.
Even now, bowlers look to bounce him out, but as long as it’s not directed at his body, Dhawan is quite proficient in putting those away. The margin of error is ever so minimal. Slightly off-kilter, he can smack even back-of-length deliveries to the fence. He cuts even those that are too close to cut. It’s where the lack an exaggerated back-and-across movement is a blessing so that he can manufacture room for himself.