Shikhar Dhawan: T20 cricket makes you large-hearted

“You can play a cheeky shot to disturb the bowler (in a Test match). T20 teaches you to take risks,” says dashing opener Shikhar Dhawan.

Shikhar Dhawan got out without scoring in Delhi Capitals’ first game of IPL 2020 but he is looking forward to giving his best for the rest of the season.   -  Sportzpics / BCCI

His love for bikes and cars reflects in his batting — there is flamboyance and quite a bit of pace. He does not believe in wasting time at the crease. He announces his arrival and it comes in the form of a drive over cover, a whiplash pull, or, what he likes the most, stepping out to the bowler. For Shikhar Dhawan, batting was the best part of growing up. The bat is a constant companion and very dear to him. Just as the flute, which now is an essential part of his travelling kit.

His neighbours in the team hotel in Dubai wake up to some melodious stuff from Dhawan’s room — his daily practice with the flute. At the nets, the music that the bowlers face is of a different kind. The sound of the bat hitting the ball is enough indication of his form. Dhawan has not complained about the bio-bubble hampering their movements or playing with their minds. “It is for everyone. Accept it and get on. After all, it is for our benefit,” says Dhawan to Sportstar.

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He has enjoyed a wonderful career in the Indian Premier League (IPL). At 37 half centuries, he was just one fifty behind Suresh Raina of Chennai Super Kings when he got out without scoring in the opening game against Kings XI Punjab. He has not missed any edition of the tournament, starting with Delhi Daredevils in 2008. He was part of the Sunrisers Hyderabad team which won the title in 2016 and is now back with the team he began with.

How have you tackled the challenge of staying in the bio-bubble?

This bubble has given me an opportunity to grow and I have tried to use every moment to learn and improve. It has been a huge challenge mentally and I have managed to keep my focus in place. I couldn’t have just kept sulking about not being able to meet my friends and family. It would have worked against my preparation for the IPL. I learnt to embrace the situation and make the most of it. I have not allowed it to pull me down. In fact, I have enjoyed the bio-bubble. It’s been a beautiful (IPL) journey for 13 years. It’s a big thing to play a big league 13 years in succession. It feels good to know that I have maintained a successful journey. This tournament has grown every year. People look forward to it because it brings a lot of positivity. Once the tournament is over, you feel a vacuum in your life. Especially this year it will be a welcome tournament. There is so much negativity because of the coronavirus. The tournament will help divert people’s minds and keep them happy. Some people are not able to take their mind off the negativity. I am sure the IPL will help them in staying positive. The IPL has that power to wean the people away from the coronavirus negativity.

Shikhar Dhawan celebrates after scoring a swashbuckling century on debut in the third Test against Australia at the PCA Stadium in Mohali n 2013. “My first Test innings was a result of all the hard work. I had clarity about what I had to do in my first Test innings. I had come to understand my game better, especially my strong points. And then I put it to good use,” says Dhawan.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

How was your first year in the IPL?

There was excitement and a lot of expectation when the IPL was born in 2008. Everyone was looking forward to winning a contract. I got mine with Delhi Daredevils. When my name came, I was very excited. Then I waited for an opportunity to play and grab every chance. I remember I began my IPL career with a half century (52 not out versus Rajasthan Royals). I remember in my first season I made 340 runs and that gave a lot of confidence. We had A. B. de Villiers and Glenn McGrath. There was so much to learn from them. Sharing the dressing room with them boosted my confidence a lot. When I was with Deccan Chargers and later with Sunrisers Hyderabad, I played with (Kumar) Sangakkara. It brought changes in my batting. In fact, I ended up making more runs than him. That was a huge morale booster. It helped me overcome a difficult period in my international career, learning from Sachin Tendulkar and so many other seniors.

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How different was the IPL from the domestic circuit?

The difference between a domestic player and an international player was big. The IPL helped us bridge that gap as there was constant communication with senior players from India and those from overseas. It helped me tackle the transition period from one level to the next. I picked up shot-making from Sangakkara and de Villiers, improved my work ethic and attitude and how to handle pressure. Even today, if I get stuck, then I message Sangakkara. He immediately gets back and guides me. And all this was possible because we played together in the IPL. You develop friendships when you play together. You learn so much about the sports in other countries and it helps you become a better human being. You learn to respect their language, culture and approach to life. It also helped cricketers overcome racism, if there was any. The on-field behaviour towards each other improved. There can be confrontations but within the laws of the game. The IPL has brought oneness.

What do players look forward to in the IPL?

The tournament has become so professional, the players know there is so much at stake so they all look to giving their best. They all look to perform; this time there are no spectators but that will not ease the pressure to perform. The player knows that the intensity will be high so he is not going to take things easy. Of course, we will miss the spectators, but we will have to entertain those who are watching us on television. As professionals we have to deliver, whatever be the circumstances or challenges.

Lessons from the IPL and domestic cricket...

The IPL and domestic cricket has been a fantastic combination to help me push my claims. I played on green tracks (in Delhi) and it helped me become a better batsman against fast bowling. I could become a good opener because I could play in difficult conditions. Playing on seaming pitches helped me a lot. The confidence that came from playing the IPL backed me when I played my first Test. Also remember, I played for India ‘A’ for five-six years. I made runs in India and South Africa. So, my first Test innings was a result of all that hard work. I had clarity about what I had to do in my first Test innings. I had come to understand my game better, especially my strong points. And then I put it to good use.

What is the real Shikhar Dhawan like?

I have always been a happy-go-lucky person. I don’t believe in brooding over the past. Every failure teaches you lessons. I always knew this was going to be a long race. It is a very unpredictable journey. I will play for sometime and someone else will come and replace me, I am prepared for it. My love for the game has helped me in this journey. I felt pain when I failed, but I kept motivating myself thinking of the goals that I have to achieve. I did not allow that pain to linger. I loved playing for Delhi, so that was my biggest motivation. Even now I play for Delhi whenever I get an opportunity. I have a strong connect with the Delhi dressing room. I am grateful that I played all my cricket for Delhi.

What have you learnt from failures?

Failures have made me a strong man, mentally. Success makes you complacent. Failure reminds you that you still have a lot to achieve. I think failures are an important part of life. Take it as a learning experience, set your priorities, identify your flaws. There were times when I would be blank, but failures helped me create my vision. Now, failures guide me, bring me wisdom. I look for solutions in my failures. My strength to improve comes when I fail. I don’t worry about the situation.

“I look forward to treating my fans with some big innings. I will look to bring smiles to their faces in these difficult times. I am also practising my flute to stay positive. If we win, I will also show you how good I am at bhangra...,” says Dhawan.   -  Getty Images

 

What have you learnt from your contemporaries?

To reach a place is one thing, to stay there is another. I learnt calmness from (M. S.) Dhoni, learnt consistency from Virat (Kohli), learnt positivity from Rohit (Sharma). I combined these learning with my strength, which is self-belief. I also learn from the youngsters.

Your thoughts on the current state of your career?

It feels nice to be among the top run-getters. It’s all part of the journey and you keep upgrading yourself. I’m looking to add new skills and learn new shots. There are shots I have practised for six months to improve. I aim to be an impact player. I shall be an asset to my team. I always believe in embracing change.

Qualities of the IPL that you bring to a Test innings...

You can play a cheeky shot to disturb the bowler. T20 teaches you to take risks, makes you large-hearted. For example, when playing on a turning track, I play the reverse sweep in T20 so I can try it in Test matches also. I have tried too. To step out (to a bowler) in a Test match — I got the confidence to do it from T20. I had stepped out to a fast bowler in my very first Test innings.

What are the takeaways from the IPL?

You have a lot of tools to play with. Sweetest memory is winning the IPL for Sunrisers. IPL teaches you to respond quickly because the game is so fast-paced, winning is so important.

There is so much at stake. If you do well, your contract value will go up. You have to take decisions in a split second.

What can fans expect from you in the 2020 edition of the IPL?

I look forward to treating my fans with some big innings. I will look to bring smiles to their faces in these difficult times. I am also practising my flute to stay positive. If we win, I will also show you how good I am at bhangra...