CSK’s Shivam Dube shows he’s no longer threatened by bouncers

Chennai Super Kings' batter Shivam Dube plays a shot during the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 T20 cricket match between Chennai Super Kings and Gujarat Titans, at MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (PTI Photo)

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IT was the 14th delivery that Shivam Dube faced on Tuesday night. Seconds after Spencer Johnson ran in and delivered a well-directed, shoulder-high bouncer, the 33,400-odd spectators at Chepauk cleared the throat for the umpteenth time on the night.

There was something about the roar as Dube got inside the line of the ball and deposited Johnson well into the stands beyond deep fine-leg. For a batsman, who has been at unease when facing chin music, Dube did well. The reward for all the hard work he had been putting behind the scenes in domestic cricket, to confront the short-ball challenge.

In the middle, Johnson had a quizzical face. The rest of his Gujarat Titans teammates looked shell shocked. At the Chennai Super Kings dug-out, there were high-fives among the support-staff. “I know they are going to bowl short balls and I’m ready for that,” Dube, who talks very little, would say later. He faced six short balls through the night, and not once did he look rattled.

The short balls and the bouncers were supposed to trouble Dube. Last IPL season as Dube went about smashing the spinners, opposition captains’ not only wasted any time in bringing on the pacers, but also tested him with short-balls and bouncers.

Rolling his wrists

With two bouncers allowed per over this IPL, Dube was among those batsmen, whose comfort levels in the middle against pacers, was bound to be tested. Having looked clueless last season against short balls, he now has not one fall back option, but two. One where he is keeping the ball down by rolling his wrists and another where he stands tall and uses his power to clear the fence, like he did in the case of Spencer.

Festive offer

“Well if you rewind one, maybe two years ago, teams would come in and bowl short balls and Dube would either duck out of the way or defend,” Chennai’s batting coach Mike Hussey said. “And that’s all he had until he got in… Then he could maybe play some shots against it. Now bowlers are still coming in with the same plan but he’s been able to score off it as well. And he’s been able to find boundaries if he gets into the right position as well. So that’s testament to the work that he’s put in behind the scenes… to be ready for their plans,” Hussey said.

Hussey was supposed to work with Dube during the pre-season to address this issue, especially with the new rule coming in. But a side-strain injury Dube picked up during the Ranji Trophy meant he joined the set-up only two days before the opening fixture. There were even concerns in the Chennai ranks. But it was a case about much ado about nothing.

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Dube. He’s gone away and he’s worked and worked tirelessly against the short
ball in his own time. He’s understood that’s an area that he needs to improve on. It’s an area that teams were going to come at him and he has gone away and done hours and hours of hard work. So, I mean, hats off to him and the way he’s playing, he’s playing it with confidence now. And then he’s also still as dangerous as ever against the spinners as we saw tonight,” Hussey said.

Since joining the franchise in 2022, Dube has been Chennai’s trump card with the bat, one who tactically opened up situations like nobody else. Having batted out of position at Royal Challengers Bengaluru and Rajasthan Royals, Chennai have used him at No 4 & 5 to take down spinners. For a batsman who had 22 sixes in his first three seasons, he has hit 16 & 35 in 2022 and 2023 respectively. In two matches this season, he has half a dozen sixes.

It is this incredible six-hitting capability, especially in the middle-overs when opposition teams look to slip in a few quiet overs with spinners, that has made Dube a super–hit among fans at Chepauk.

At the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Monday, when Virat Kohli hit Kagiso Rabada for a six, the noise levels recorded by the broadcaster had hit 124 decibels. On Tuesday, at Chepauk, it hit 127db as Dube made his entry after being restless in the dug-out as Rashid Khan and Sai Kishore were beginning to slow down the run-rate. And as the left-arm spinner dismissed Rahane off the first ball of the 11th over, Dube wasted no time to walk to the middle.

This was his favoured match-up. And he showed why. The first, hit with brutal power, sailed over long-on. For the next, Sai Kishore responded by going slower and this time Dube went over mid-wicket. Two overs later, Rashid Khan wanted to have a go at Dube. His last two deliveries to him in the IPL final last year had seen the left-hander hit two huge sixes.

And here, after taking a single off the first delivery from Rashid, Dube picked the googly and deposited it over long-on, before Gujarat turned to Johnson. And Dube went about showing Chepauk, why the moniker Aaru Saamy fits him perfectly.

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