Waiting, waiting and now waltzing

Dhawan... smashing Australia to smithereens in Mohali.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

For all that aggression with the bat, Shikhar Dhawan says little. At the press conference after his ton against South Africa, he merely complimented Rohit Sharma on his batting, hailed their understanding as first-time opening partners, and muttered a word of thanks to the massed ranks of Indian supporters. Shreedutta Chidananda profiles India’s latest batting star.

There is not a dull moment when Shikhar Dhawan is at the crease. Between the resounding drives and pull shots, of which there are many, there is the little paddle behind fine leg, the push into midwicket, the easy squeeze past point. He may not quite be David Gower but it is good to watch Dhawan for there is a positive certainty to his batting.

No doubts nag him it seems and no questions pop up in his head at the striker’s end. He plays each ball with such clarity of intent that even when there may be periods of measured scoring, they don’t feel laboured. On the viewer, a Dhawan innings doesn’t grate.

It wasn’t always so. After a glittering time at the U-19 World Cup in 2004 as player of the tournament, Dhawan returned home to discover that greatness he had publicly seemed destined for did not arrive. He made his first-class debut soon but an international call up wouldn’t come for another six years.

“From Delhi alone, there were players like Virender Sehwag, and Gautam Gambhir that were all ahead of him. He wasn’t getting a chance. That frustration kept building up and started showing in his game,” says Tarak Sinha, the player’s first coach.

When he did finally make his debut in 2010, in an ODI at Visakhapatnam, he was bowled second ball by Australia’s Clint McKay and had to be consoled by M. S. Dhoni and Suresh Raina.

Eight months later he toured the West Indies as part of a young side under Raina but after one half-century, Dhawan made three low scores and vanished out of contention.

“He became aloof and was feeling bad, though he was keeping his feelings within,” Sinha recalls.

But Dhawan kept plugging away, doing his best in domestic cricket. In the 2012-13 season, he aggregated 461 runs in the Ranji Trophy and 309 in the Irani Cup. So when he received another opportunity, Dhawan, tougher and wiser after all the years of first-class cricket, knew he had to take it.

“I feel lucky that I have played for six-seven years in domestic cricket and the fact that I am making my Test debut with that experience, I feel more confident,” he said in Mohali ahead of his first Test cap. Three days later, he tore into Australia, slamming a 174-ball-187.

Although Dhawan appeared to have broken through on that occasion, when he slammed the fastest hundred for a debutant, he suffered an injury immediately after.

So any apprehensions ahead of the Champions Trophy would have been justified, for he hadn’t played one-day cricket in over two years. Yet, little appears to have changed since that whirlwind ton against Australia, either with his confidence or the nature of his batting.

Dhawan scored successive hundreds against South Africa and the West Indies, and missed a fifty by a whisker against Pakistan. He stepped out and drove fast bowlers as if they had been dragged in from the local park. “I practise this (stepping down) in the nets and implement it in the match. When I feel I have to hit, I try it. It’s my game; it works for me,” he said in Cardiff.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Dhawan were part of the same team in the Challenger Trophy after which Dhoni was selected to the Indian team.-PTI

Dhawan had turned up at Sinha’s Sonnet Cricket Club in Delhi as a bright-eyed 12-year-old. His two cousins were already enrolled there and Dhawan soon rose through the age-groups, making a name as a bold left-hander. “He was essentially a stroke-maker and he always played that way,” Sinha says.

In Birmingham, Dhoni sought to explain Dhawan’s new-found confidence.

“Shikhar and I were team-mates back together in the Challenger Trophy from where I was picked for India. He got a bit of chance in the middle in the last three years but the problem is when you get games on and off, you don’t know whether you play the next one or you’ll get a few games in one go. So that really affects the thinking of a cricketer.

“That stint showed him where he needed to improve and now all of a sudden when he gets a chance, he’s sure about the fact that he’ll get a few games if not too many,” he said.

The circumstances that Dhawan is playing in offer him that security. Besides, as he has admitted himself, he is now mature in his approach to batting. “He used to play loose shots earlier but he doesn’t do that now; he plays only correct shots,” says Sinha.

Dhawan could have lost hope, or worse, his way. At 27, it might feel like a late beginning to an international career. There will be bad patches, and it might be long before the string of three international hundreds is repeated, but there will be no giving up no matter what.

“He has struggled a lot in life,” says Sinha. “He doesn’t want to miss the chance now that he’s got one. That he has stayed in contention even after so many years shows how determined he is.”

For all that aggression with the bat, Dhawan says little. At the press conference after his ton against South Africa, he merely complimented Rohit Sharma on his batting, hailed their understanding as first-time opening partners, and muttered a word of thanks to the massed ranks of Indian supporters.

“I just watch the ball, play the ball, enjoy watching my partners bat, enjoy running between the wickets,” Dhawan smiled, when asked for his frame of mind. “And I enjoy taking the pressure.”