The new opener an eye-opener!

Shikhar champagne uncorked.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Is Shikhar Dhawan good enough to serve the Indian team long in the big league? He has begun to value his cricket and this was reflected in the manner in which he raced to his century in Mohali, writes Vijay Lokapally.

The tattooed biceps, gleaming ear studs, sunglasses and the swagger do not project his real self. Actually, he is a sober, God-fearing, disciplined and determined cricketer. Out to conquer the world, as he says. To conquer the bowlers and make a strong statement of his cricket with his aggressive instincts at the crease. Shikhar Dhawan, the newest star on the Indian cricketing horizon, is the batsman to watch.

The Australians got a first-hand impression of the left-hander’s batting when he smashed 187 on debut. It was a ‘highlights package’ as Dhawan tore into the attack and left the bowlers in a tattered state. Dhawan did nothing special. That’s the way he bats. Only, the stage was different. Apart from the bat in his hands, he loves to twirl his moustache these days. The moustache gives him a rustic look, but his cricket is polished, built on years of toil at the Sonnet Club.

When coach Tarak Sinha, with an uncanny eye to spot talent, gave the young Dhawan a detailed stint at the ‘nets’, he was quick to assess that he had a “terrific” talent on his hands. Sinha did not lose time and gave Dhawan “special attention.” Soon, the lad was making waves in Delhi cricket.

With a stream of talent to hone, Sinha ensured Dhawan was accorded enough time and guidance by Madan Sharma, one of his assistants. Madan, too, realised Dhawan’s potential. The boy was willing and soon the coach and the pupil raised the bar.

Success at the 2003-04 (under-19) World Cup, where he became the Player of the Tournament for compiling 505 runs, saw Dhawan come into national limelight. But he lost the race to Aakash Chopra, and then to Gautam Gambhir, with Virender Sehwag already holding the opener’s slot in the National team. With options available to the National selectors, Dhawan was not a contender at the highest level.

Nine years of first-class cricket steeled his resolve and improved his approach to the job. A chance debut in Mohali, owing to the non-inclusion of the out-of-form duo of Sehwag and Gambhir, brought forth his determination to make the most of the rather unexpected opportunity.

“I have never seen him bat like this,” said Delhi coach Vijay Dahiya. “This guy sets his own benchmarks, one of a kind. He has been like this always,” said Dahiya on Dhawan’s astonishing debut.

Is Dhawan good enough to serve the team long in the big league? “He has the potential, is fearless, and always working to improve his game,” noted Sinha. Dhawan has begun to value his cricket and this was reflected in the manner in which he raced to his century in Mohali.

The ability to find the gaps, with the fast outfield aiding him, stood out in Dhawan’s knock. Sehwag, having watched the explosive knock, said, “I was not surprised. I am so happy he made such an impact on debut. He had waited for a long time and all his hard work paid off.” Not many are aware that Dhawan was congratulated on his selection and given some important counselling by Sehwag before the Test.

A debut at the age of 27 in India may seem out of place, but it would help Dhawan immensely. His long stint in domestic cricket has contributed to his rise as a batsman who can be relied upon. A veteran of India ‘A’ contests, he was on the fringe for a long time. With a settled opening pair of Sehwag and Gambhir in occupation, Dhawan did not mind the wait. But when the chance came, he lost no time in grabbing it.

Dhawan with his favourite coach Madan Sharma-

He has passed the first stage with glowing results. Dhawan is far more composed in his approach now and with age has matured into a sound opener. He rarely looked like a debutant.

As Madan observed, “His game now is all about understanding the situation. He had a superb flow when he made runs in the junior World Cup and then suffered from inconsistency. The Ranji Trophy saw his batting evolve even though there were times when he annoyed me by throwing his wicket away. He has learnt from his mistakes.”

Dhawan disciplined his batting by putting value to his wicket. “He used to look to hit every ball. Not anymore,” said Madan. “A good thing about him is that he does not accept defeat lightly. Whenever we lost, he was the saddest man in the dressing room.”

His self-belief has seen Dhawan emerge as a Test opener. Like every good batsman, he knows the importance of giving respect to the bowler initially. He is also very good in ‘leaving’ the ball. “This I learnt in my early days. Leaving the ball is as important as playing one,” remarked Dhawan.

His technique allows him to play a vast range of shots. “He is basically a stroke-player, but can build his innings. His defence is as good as any other batsman’s and I expect him to do well overseas too,” said Sinha.

A finger-injury denied Dhawan another strike at the Australians in Delhi, his home ground. He took it in his stride with a promise to himself to try and excel whenever he takes guard the next time in a Test.