A new combine with great expectations

Shikhar Dhawan gained immensely from his sensational Test debut. He had waited long for his chance and once it came his way, the opener sought Madan Sharma’s blessings and rose as a batsman to watch, an entertainer in his own right.-AP

Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma complement each other well. India’s triumph in the Champions Trophy recently saw a significant rise in their reputation, writes Vijay Lokapally.

In his autobiography, the former Australian opening batsman, Matthew Hayden, mentions Bob Simpson’s talk of the “philosophy of continuous improvement with perfection as the objective.” While perfection is debatable, the effort to improve is evident to both the coach and his student. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have taken huge strides in this direction and have emerged as a reliable opening pair for India in the absence of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir.

Opening batsmen often set the tone of an innings. When Sehwag savaged the bowlers, the batsmen padded up in the dressing room would all remain warmed up. “It helps if the openers lay the foundation. They have a responsibility and once they deliver the innings takes a firm direction,” says Vijay Dahiya, who has evolved as a coach in the last few years.

Shikhar and Rohit complement each other well. The consistency that has marked their comeback to the Indian team is a shining spot. India’s triumph in the Champions Trophy recently saw a significant rise in their reputation, as the opening pair made the most of its good form.

There was no perceptible change in their attitude and technique. “Rohit batted the same way at the school-, state- and international-level. Believe me, his approach to the job has not changed. Confidence makes a lot of difference and you can see a confident Rohit at the crease now,” says Dinesh Lad, Rohit’s coach.

There is a common theme in the stories of Shikhar and Rohit. Gifted players both, they paid the price for being complacent earlier. “When you begin to take your place for granted, things don’t work in your favour,” warns Shikhar’s long-time coach Madan Sharma. Not that Shikhar took his place for granted. In fact, he endured a long exile — which was of his own making — after announcing his talent in the Under-19 World Cup in 2004.

The time away from the spotlight chastened both Shikhar and Rohit. “I can vouch for Shikhar’s sincerity to the game. I have seen him spend hours and hours at the nets, studying his tapes and analysing his game. It was a learning process, which helped him grow as a player. It reflects in his batting now. He is a lot mature and much more responsible opener now,” opines Madan Sharma.

Like Shikhar, Rohit too suffered from diversions that affected his cricket. “Rohit realised his mistake and concentrated hard,” says Lad.

Both the batsmen soon realised that cricket was their ticket to a secure future, and they fully focussed their time and energy on returning to the main fold.

“Once Shikhar had made up his mind, I was convinced that he will perform well,” says Madan Sharma.

When they walk out to bat, Shikhar and Rohit have the backing of their respective coaches and their fans. And of course, their self-belief plays a dominant part too. Captaining Mumbai Indians helped Rohit realise his potential, which everyone was aware of. It was just waiting to be tapped, and Rohit did not waste this opportunity.

Shikhar gained immensely from his sensational Test debut. He had waited long for his chance and once it came his way, the opener sought Madan Sharma’s blessings and rose as a batsman to watch, an entertainer in his own right. To make up for the absence of Sehwag and Gambhir was an onerous task for Shikhar and Rohit but they did not let down their well-wishers.

The basis of a good association is faith. Shikhar and Rohit have very good faith in each other. The two batsmen guide each other in the middle by assessing their game, strengths and weaknesses and they instantly find ways to improve. Their shot selection has been a strong area. “Look how they leave the ball,” was a strikingly similar observation by Lad and Madan Sharma.

Sunil Gavaskar, Mohinder Amarnath, Aunshuman Gaekwad and Dilip Vengsarkar were some of the finest examples of batsmen knowing very well how to leave a ball. Rohit has shown exemplary quality in choosing the deliveries to leave. Shikhar, on the other hand, is the more adventurous of the two and though he plays a wide range of strokes, he does not indulge in wild hitting anymore.

With the future of Indian cricket in mind, Rohit and Shikhar have to accept their responsibilities at the top. The new and trusted pair of Indian cricket has won praise from all quarters, including tough taskmasters like Gavaskar and Vengsarkar, who always back cricketers with good technique. The Rohit-Shikhar association draws immense inspiration from the backing that India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni provides.

One must give credit to Dhoni for assuring Rohit, 26, and Shikhar, 27, an extended support that has meant the world to the dashing opening pair. They seem to have cemented their places in the Indian team, which is in a transition phase. Simpson’s philosophy of continuous improvement with perfection as the objective appears to be the Rohit-Shikhar combination’s propelling force.