Packing a wallop

Shikhar Dhawan with the Man of the Match trophy at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur. The left-hander revelled for Rest of India in the Irani Cup match against Rajasthan in the 2011-12 season, scoring a century in each innings.-ROHIT JAIN PARAS

A batsman of immense potential, Shikhar Dhawan appears well set to cement his place in the Indian team and serve the country well and long in all formats of the game. By Vijay Lokapally.

Shikhar, in Hindi, means pinnacle. But not long ago, he was languishing, short of motivation, low on confidence and wondering if he would ever get a break. He had after all set his sights on getting to the peak and this meant Shikhar Dhawan had to reorient his game. It was like scaling Mount Everest. For Dhawan, earning a nod from the National selectors was as good as that.

He earned his break in 2010 (ODI versus Australia in Visakhapatnam), but lost his place in the Indian team owing to a combination of casualness at the crease and some poor shot selection.

Dhawan’s coach, Madan Sharma, was a worried man and the player’s mentor, Tarak Sinha, was unable to identify the flaws. “There is nothing wrong with his game actually. It is all in his mind,” Sinha had observed.

Dhawan knew well that it was his problem and he had to deal with it firmly, on his own.

The failure to keep his place in the Indian team tormented him. “I would ask myself, ‘am I good enough to play at the international level?’ I knew I had the talent, I was working hard like anyone else, but something was missing,” Dhawan once recalled.

He seemed to be in anguish while playing in the domestic circuit in a bid to stage a comeback. Dhawan’s despondency during the Ranji matches over the last few seasons indicated the turmoil within. He was working hard, but runs were hard to come by. So, what was missing? It was difficult for either his coach, or his mentor or himself to determine. Those were real tough times for Dhawan, who had set his sights on making it big.

If ever there was a shot that transformed the attitude of a batsman it had to be the one that Dhawan played against Railways in a Ranji Trophy match in 2010 at the Roshanara ground in Delhi. It was a chilly December morning and Delhi had to achieve a simple target of 136 to win. As captain, Dhawan was expected to finish the task because Rajat Bhatia was the only experienced player in the middle-order. Dhawan, however, played a reckless shot and was dismissed. This triggered a collapse as Delhi lost the match.

Dhawan, who had an aggregate of 486 runs in 11 Ranji innings until then, was bound to receive a lot of flak for that awful shot. It cost Delhi the match even though it would be cruel to single out one individual for the collective failure of the team. Dhawan, however, knew he had let his team down. The Delhi camp was devastated by the defeat. But that day, a new Dhawan was born.

In the 2011-12 season, Dhawan made little impact in the Ranji Trophy with an aggregate of 296 runs in 10 innings, but his knocks of 177 and 155 in the Irani Cup match against Rajasthan in Jaipur kept him in the limelight. His confidence was back.

Dhawan’s foray into Test cricket was helped by the failures of state-mates Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. His sensational century on debut, in Mohali against Australia, was an innings that was in keeping with the opener’s talent. He was hailed as a “superb talent” by many former stars.

What thrilled Dhawan the most was the call he got from G. R. Viswanath after he had smacked the Australian bowlers.

“He was absolutely brilliant. I have not seen a better innings,” Viswanath said, speaking to Sportstar.

“I was not surprised,” gushed his state coach Vijay Dahiya. “He has the time to adjust and the range of shots to make a mockery of the opposition.”

The knock raised hopes of Dhawan filling up the vacancy in the Indian team arising from the loss of form of Sehwag and Gambhir. Earlier, he had to spend a lot of time waiting for his turn because Sehwag and Gambhir were doing well. The way he grabbed the opportunity confirms Dhawan’s temperament. Dhawan’s strong points have been his self-belief and enterprising approach. His back-to-back centuries against South Africa and West Indies in the Champions Trophy recently prove that he belongs to the big stage. He loves to dominate and can concentrate as fiercely as any. He will be tested in South Africa where shot selection would be the key factor.

“I have seen him leave the ball well and that will be a quality when he plays in South Africa. I have faith in his abilities,” remarked Manoj Prabhakar, who was the Delhi coach when Dhawan played that appalling shot against Railways.

“A batsman to watch,” raved Dahiya.

For Dhawan, these are pleasant times after a long and arduous journey that began more than 12 years ago at the Sonnet Club. He has taken the first steps, small but firm, towards cementing his place in the Indian team as an opener. He has immense potential and the promise to serve India well and long in all formats of the game.