Repaying the faith

Shikhar Dhawan’s batting style is suited to all forms of the game. He is quick to assess the challenge, and it should help India in the forthcoming matches in the World Cup as Dhawan can be trusted to take on the bowlers, especially the speedsters, and guide the innings, writes Vijay Lokapally.

Twirling his moustache, and with an exaggerated swagger matching his wide smile, Shikhar Dhawan was a picture of joy. He was overjoyed in fact, having just slammed a century on Test debut at Mohali, an accomplishment of a long-cherished dream. For this enterprising boy from west Delhi, life was just beginning to have a new meaning on the cricket field. He had the talent but had failed to harness it, almost fading away from the scene, before staging a comeback to finally affirm his position in Indian cricket.

At the Sonnet Club, where he trained as a teenager who displayed a lot of promise, Dhawan was a special student for coach Tarak Sinha. “He had that spark. He wanted to bat against the seniors and was always wanting to dominate, play his shots, look to practise long,” reminisced Sinha. The left-hander was marked as a player for the future. From club he graduated to make his presence at the national level soon. Sinha wanted the “gifted” batsman to be given dedicated attention and Madan Sharma, a budding coach, gladly accepted the responsibility.

The Dhawan-Sinha-Madan association presented India with a batsman who was fearless, motivated and, importantly, aware of his awesome potential. The problem for his coaches was that the youngster was in a hurry. The 2003-04 junior World Cup saw him make a huge impact with three centuries, but it did not help him break into the senior side. A stage came when Dhawan contemplated quitting cricket as he was struggling to find a place in the Delhi team. Sinha convinced him to work hard. It took him six years to win the selectors’ confidence, only to lose it. In his first five ODI innings (against Australia and West Indies) Dhawan scored a mere 69 runs and this dented his self-belief.

“It was the toughest period for him,” said Sinha. But Dhawan fought back. His comeback was facilitated by the poor form of both Sehwag and Gambhir that kept them out of the team. The selectors decided to give Dhawan a break because of his ability to dominate. “He had that x-factor. He was gutsy and batted with freedom. We were looking for an aggressive batsman at the top and Dhawan was perfect. More than technique we liked his aggression. In international cricket, you have to meet fire with fire and Dhawan promised that,” said Narendra Hirwani, part of the committee that picked him.

Dhawan was a ‘different’ kind of player, someone who looked to bat on his own terms, looked to create space for himself with a style that was close to Sehwag’s. “All he wanted was a proper run in the team,” recalled Madan Sharma. Dhawan had to grab the opportunities and he did with a fabulous 187 on Test debut. He just tore the Australian attack apart with 33 fours and two sixes.

Dhawan had learnt to value his wicket and cricket during the period he was dropped from the national team. “My best learning years,” was how he had put it.

His batting style carried him to the pinnacle as he made runs in all forms of the game, not once burdening the team management, not once causing embarrassment to his supporters.

Dhawan can be explosive on the field; and off it too. Not one to accept things meekly, his desire to question is often misunderstood. He loves a debate, likes to reason, because his will power is very strong. He was willing to wait and prove his credentials in the Delhi dressing room where he believed he was as good as any.

The Test debut propelled his career. It gave Dhawan a platform to showcase his range of shots and his ability to dominate, as the selectors had expected him to. He came to cement his place but uncertainty affected his game during the Test and tri-series in Australia. Questions were raised regarding his technique. Critics doubted his technique, but not the selectors. The biggest boost for Dhawan came from Ravi Shastri, the team director. Sinha observed that Dhawan needed a “mentor” because he had the game to excel on the big stage. “I am sure he has the backing of Shastri who stood by Dhawan when most needed,” said Sinha. “I like his attitude,” was Shastri’s comment after the left-hander’s Test debut. Dhawan has lived up to the promise with his sensational century against South Africa in Melbourne in the World Cup.

It was a crucial innings in India’s World Cup campaign. The team’s record against South Africa was poor in the World Cup, but Dhawan altered it with a characteristic show. He bats fearlessly and that was the clinching factor for the opener. He played his shots and played them well, especially the pull, which was considered his weak point. But cricket followers in Delhi have known Dhawan to play the pull and hook well, sometimes compulsively, but mostly effectively. With new balls at either end, Dhawan’s responsibility grows since he has the capacity to execute an aggressive stroke even off the first ball. He is also quick to adapt. The footwork that the 29-year-old Dhawan showed against Pakistan and South Africa confirms his form. “He is sure now of meeting the ball,” emphasised Sinha. He read the conditions and the attack very well and was always to the pitch of the ball when playing his shots. “I have seen him belt the ball at the ‘nets’ and believe me he was no different at the MCG. I knew he belonged at the international level and I am glad he has proved it early in the World Cup,” said Sinha.

Dhawan’s batting style is suited to all forms of the game. He is quick to assess the challenge, and it should help India in the forthcoming matches in the World Cup as Dhawan can be trusted to take on the bowlers, especially the speedsters, and guide the innings. The hundred against South Africa has given a fresh impetus to his career and India’s campaign. It augurs well for the team.