Shikhar Dhawan’s India career seemed to be all but over, until a brisk start to the IPL season has brought back eyeballs on him. Is there still an ICC event lurking around somewhere, or is it just too late now?

It’s that time of the year again. Shikhar Dhawan is scoring heavily in the IPL.

Nothing new, really. Dhawan has scored at least 450 runs every IPL season for the past seven years. He is likely to fly past that milestone this year as well. After three innings, his scores read 40 (29), 86* (56), and 99* (66).

The first two came in wins, while the last one was an incredible solo effort: he scored 69 per cent of the team’s runs, and hit 17 out of their 23 boundaries. Only one other managed to reach double figures.

According to CricViz, Dhawan has been the most impactful batter in IPL 2023 so far: at +66.60, the highest on their Batting Impact, just above Nicholas Pooran (+65.90).

The biggest change has been his strike rate, of 149, far more than his IPL career number of 127. In a completed season, only once (in 2020) has his strike rate been over 140. He has not transformed into a bludgeoning power-hitter: he is still steady off the blocks, before picking up steam.

It has also been the bone of contention for Dhawan the T20 player. In IPL 2021 and 2022, his season strike rates were below 125. Of the 35 men’s T20I openers with at least 1,000 runs, Dhawan strike rate (126) is the 26th. In the 10 T20Is since the start of 2020, his strike rate stands at a lowly 116.

That seems to have improved this season, and Dhawan is making sure people know. His approach was questioned by Harsha Bhogle after he carried his bat against Rajasthan Royals. After the 99 not out against the Sunrisers, Dhawan, in a post-match interview, said: “I hope you were happy with my strike rate as you tweeted something”.

Top of the Orange Cap list, and batting with fluency, Dhawan seems to have found a new gear at 37. Does that mean anything to his India career?

In T20Is, it probably does not. India needs to build a new team in the format, having seen the drawbacks of backing their ODI stars across two T20 World Cup campaigns. The approach is outdated, with too many anchors at the top. The next World Cup is still a little far away, and India has some time to develop their squad in the lead-up.

What about ODIs, arguably his best format? He last played one in December. It has been an odd few years for him. In 2020 and 2021, he played six ODIs apiece, while in 2022, he played 22 – no other India player featured in more than 17. As other senior players were rested, he led India on tours of Sri Lanka and the West Indies as well at home against South Africa and New Zealand. Since 2021, Rohit Sharma has led India in 16 games. Dhawan, in 12.

Despite the extended run, and extra responsibility, Dhawan hasn’t played ODIs in 2023 yet. The numbers have definitely tailed off in 2022 – he averaged 34.40 last year, at a strike rate of 74. And he hasn’t scored a century in four years.

Maybe, just maybe, there could still be space for Dhawan at World Cup, just over half a year from now. For starters, there is no apparent fitness issue – Dhawan is probably as fit as any 37-year-old. He is somewhat of an ICC tournament specialist – across 20 matches (World Cups and Champions Trophy) he averages 65.15 with as many as six centuries.

Including Dhawan does give India a solid, sturdy option on home pitches for the World Cup, even if not first-choice. For a team looking to break its trophy-less streak, an in-form, indefatigable Dhawan would be a healthy fit somewhere in the squad.

The incredible form of Shubman Gill has more or less confirmed him as an opener alongside Rohit Sharma. When recently asked, a candid Dhawan said that he would choose Gill over himself. It is a happy situation for the team to have, but it is not where the issues lie.

Virat Kohli is settled at No.3, while KL Rahul, Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja are slotted for further down. Somewhere in the middle, without Rishabh Pant, the lack of clarity over Shreyas Iyer’s fitness, and Suryakumar Yadav’s woeful ODI form, the instability is evident. Dhawan’s experience would be a useful cushion to have as the third opener.

As a left-field choice, it can give them the option of starting with Rohit and Dhawan, one of the most successful pairings in ODI history, with Gill pushed down to the middle order. This tactic need not be immediately endorsed – but it is an option to have if the No.4 slot is not convincingly filled.

Pre- or mid-tournament injuries at the past World Cups have taught every team about importance of depth in the the squad. Dhawan is scoring quicker than before, and if the good run continues, there may be merit in getting him back. Having someone with over a decade of experience in a home World Cup is an option most teams would love to have.

Featuring in the World Cup could be a nice way to sign off his ODI career for one of India’s finest openers of the format. Only four other ODI openers have scored more runs than him, and they are all blockbuster names. A World Cup at home is the stuff dreams are made of. For Dhawan, it will be a fitting end.

Even if it’s not, and a random fixture in Bangladesh – as hosts, India had already qualified for the World Cup – turns out to be his last, you will still see the same broad smile on Dhawan’s face.