Once a modern ODI great, Shikhar Dhawan has faded away unnoticed

Shikhar Dhawan walks off after being dismissed for nine Adrian Dennis / © AFP/Getty Images

The ten-year anniversary of a seminal event in Indian cricket history is almost upon us. The date might help you guess which one it is. The venue almost certainly will.

October 16, 2013. Jaipur.

The scene was the second ODI of a seven-match series of colossal run-feasts. Australia batted first and scored 359 for 5. India hadn't chased anything of that magnitude before, and only once in all ODIs had a bigger total been surpassed. And if you were an India fan of a particular disposition, you would have remembered, without wanting to, that Australia had set India the same target in the 2003 World Cup final.

India chased it down this time. They won by nine wickets. They won with 39 balls to spare. Thirty-nine.

That victory represented an inflection point for three batters who were at different stages in the journey to ODI greatness.

Virat Kohli was perhaps already there; his unbeaten 52-ball 100 - still the fastest century by an India batter in ODIs - was a frightening revelation that, having done the 133 not out and the 183, he could also do this. Rohit Sharma, with two hundreds and an average of 32.50 from his previous 103 ODIs, scored an unbeaten 141 off 123 balls that gave the first real glimpse of the method that would turn him a churner-out of unimaginably big hundreds.

On the ten-year anniversary of this match, Kohli and Rohit will be between matches at the World Cup, between Pakistan in Ahmedabad and Bangladesh in Pune.

Shikhar Dhawan, provider of vital early impetus to India's Jaipur chase with 95 off 86 balls, won't be with them.

Time marches relentlessly on, and at twice the speed in sport. Dhawan, modern ODI great and one of only eight batters in the format's history with over 5000 runs at a 40-plus average and a 90-plus strike rate (Rohit and Kohli are two of the others), hasn't played for India since the Chattogram ODI last December, and it's not your fault if you've barely noticed his absence since then; you've simply had too much else to keep track of.

If you don't remember Dhawan's 3 off eight in Chattogram, it's probably because any memory of it has been obliterated by Ishan Kishan's 210 off 131. If you've not thought about Dhawan all that much since then, it's possibly because Shubman Gill, rested for that series in Bangladesh, has gone on to enjoy one of the greatest years any batter in ODI history has had.

Dhawan was playing for India less than a year ago, but it already feels like he played in another era.

It's exactly how the world felt after that Jaipur ODI. It had only been a year and a half since Sachin Tendulkar's last ODI, and only nine months since India had jettisoned Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir.

Dhawan had scored a rollicking 187 on Test debut, and earned an ODI recall after five mostly forgettable games in 2010 and 2011. That comeback year, 2013, was something like Gill's 2023: 1162 runs at 50.52 and a strike rate of 97.89. When he brought up his fifth ODI hundred that November, Dhawan had played just 28 games. This is one Indian ODI record Gill hasn't managed to break: he scored his fifth hundred, against Bangladesh during the Asia Cup, in his 32nd match.

From that prolific 2013 until the 2019 World Cup, Dhawan stood more or less toe to toe with Rohit among the world's foremost ODI openers. They didn't bat like Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy, because India's line-up didn't have anything like England's depth. For most of that period, India struggled to identify a solid middle-order combination and lacked bowlers who could hit sixes down the order.

And so Rohit and Dhawan, and Kohli at No. 3, batted like at least one of them had to still be at the crease at the 40-over mark. They dovetailed beautifully to make this happen time after time, while playing markedly different roles.

Jaipur was an early glimpse of these roles. Dhawan made 95 off 86 out of an opening partnership of 176. Rohit, who contributed 63 off 71 to that stand, accelerated to score 78 off his last 52 balls. From the start of 2013 to the start of the 2019 World Cup, this is more or less how they batted in ODIs.

In this six-year-period, while Dhawan scored at 85.95 in the first ten overs, Rohit went at 69.52 - slower than, in ascending order of strike rates, Azhar Ali, Alastair Cook and Ajinkya Rahane. Dhawan would take most of the early risks in this period, using his feet to fast bowlers, chipping over the infield, staying leg-side of the ball to try and create scoring opportunities against corridor deliveries.

This allowed Rohit to bed in and bat long, and when he did this, there were few forces as destructive: in overs 41 to 50, Rohit scored at over two runs per ball while averaging 68.22. Out of 119 innings in this 2013-19 period, Rohit batted into the last ten overs in 15. Dhawan only got that far four times in 122 innings.

It reflects in the magnitude of hundreds they scored. Rohit has nine scores bigger than Dhawan's ODI highest of 143, including three double-hundreds. Dhawan played a significant helping hand with two of those doubles, though; he made 68 off 67 in Bengaluru, when Rohit's contribution to the opening stand was 46 off 60; and 60 off 57 in Mohali, when Rohit scored 40 off his first 57 balls.

They were playing different roles that happened to suit their strengths; each was in his own way equally valuable to India's cause.

Until the 2019 World Cup, it was even possible to make a case for Dhawan opening alongside Tendulkar in India's all-time ODI XI: so compelling was the middle ground he offered between Virender Sehwag's frenetic starts and Rohit's rate of scoring centuries, while providing the tactical advantage of left-handedness.

Rohit then went on to end the argument during the 2019 World Cup, scoring an unprecedented five hundreds. Dhawan played just two games and exited the tournament with a fractured thumb sustained while scoring 117 against Australia.

That 117 was Dhawan's sixth hundred in World Cups and Champions Trophies. The three batters above him on that list, with seven each, are all Indians: Tendulkar, Rohit, Sourav Ganguly. Take away runs against non-Test-playing opposition, and only Rohit sits above Dhawan.

Dhawan's returns diminished in the years since that World Cup, though, his run-scoring slowing down markedly, age perhaps catching up with a game heavily reliant on hand and eye. In the current ODI cycle, his strike rate of 81.75 is the lowest of the ten India batters who have scored at least 500 runs - the other nine have all gone at above 90.

Rohit and Dhawan, then, has given way to Rohit and Gill, a partnership that reflects both the accelerated rhythms of ODIs in general and the fact that India are now spoilt for choice with middle-order options. Both Rohit and Gill have struck at above 93 in the powerplay during this ODI cycle, and at above 100 overall. There is no accumulator.

And so, while there's no room for Dhawan at the top of India's order, their style of play is entirely out of his peak-years playbook. If he isn't missed, it could be because he hasn't really gone away.