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The Drought, The Calm, Then Dhawan's Run Storm

25/02/2015 11:30 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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India's Shikhar Dhawan celebrates after scoring a century against South Africa during their Cricket World Cup pool B match in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Theo Karanikos)

This article is from Wisden India.

Wisden India

By R Kaushik

River Torrens flowing beneath, on a clear, crisp Saturday evening, the sun still shining bright at 7pm. A pretty family picture - a man out on a leisurely stroll with his wife and kids, the youngest of them cosily nestled in the pram steered by the doting dad. Nothing out of the ordinary, an everyday occurrence in Adelaide as it is in every other part of the world.

Except, the man with the pram answers to the name of Shikhar Dhawan. Luxuriant moustache. Standout hairstyle. And, of course, India batsman.

shikhar dhawan

Dhawan - The One - was chilled out. Totally at peace with himself, and the world around him. Happy, contented. He shouldn't have been. He should have been feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders. He had made no runs in the triangular series. Or in the preceding Test series. The mode of dismissals was eerily similar; swinging ball, no feet, bat drawn magnetically, slip pouches catch. Played out over and over again. Why aren't you worried?

I don't know why, but the outwardly carefree mien is obviously working. 73 the following day against Pakistan, 137 on Sunday (February 22) night against South Africa. On fairly decent batting surfaces, agreed, and against a ball - or actually one ball at each end - that didn't swing too much, but against quality attacks in high-pressure situations with so much riding on it all for him and his team.

Particularly in the triangular series, Dhawan did look a walking wicket. Mitchell Starc and James Anderson had his measure time after time, and time was the one commodity Dhawan desperately needed. Time in the middle. Time to find his feet. Time to regain some confidence. Time to assess the conditions. Time to rediscover his mojo.

"I was relaxed, I knew that once set, I could bring up the run-rate again. After the 20-25th over, I was in, and I knew I could get boundaries easily."

Instead, all he had time for was to reflect. To introspect. To figure out where he was going. And why he was going where he was going. He couldn't have but known that the fans were running out of patience, but at no time was he given the impression that the team was running out of patience, that he himself was running out of time. And so he went to work. Subtle changes to technique, nothing extraordinary. Bat closer to the body, feet moving in sync with willow. Mind clear and uncluttered. Patient. Egoless.

"I just wanted to stay at the wicket, I respected the good balls," he said after his second significant hundred against South Africa in a major competition, following his 114 in the Champions Trophy in Cardiff in 2013. "I was relaxed, I knew that once set, I could bring up the run-rate again. After the 20-25th over, I was in, and I knew I could get boundaries easily."

And he did. His first 50 was measured - 70 deliveries, eight fours, most of them square on the off side or through the covers. The second was faster - 52 deliveries, and that because he slowed down in the late 90s, six further fours. The last 37 came off just 24 deliveries with just two fours, but also two stunning sixes. Dale Steyn was deposited over long-on with minimum effort, Morne Morkel disdainfully despatched over fine-leg as Dhawan walked across his stumps and whip-flicked him a mile. Steyn and Morkel. Fast and faster. Two of the more skilful, more dangerous, more incisive quicks in the world. Dhawan might as well have been having a net.

But he wasn't. The pitch behaved two-paced, some balls taking off alarmingly from a length. Admittedly, it was on its best behaviour in the afternoon, but the quality of the South African attack meant there were no freebies on offer. Runs had to be earned because there were no gifts, though Dhawan will almost certainly be sending Hashim Amla a thank you note. For the dropped catch on 53, when the normally reliable Amla snatched at the ball behind point off the hapless Wayne Parnell.

South Africa had clear plans for Dhawan, him with a penchant for cutting the ball. The cut is one of Dhawan's favourite strokes and a preferred scoring option, but because he doesn't always get on top of the ball, he also hits it in the air far too often for comfort. On Sunday, AB de Villiers had a man at orthodox point, another man some ten yards to his right at a backward point, precisely for that stroke. For nearly 75 deliveries, Dhawan didn't hit one in the air in that region, though he didn't put the cut in cold storage either. When Parnell did elicit the mistake, Amla offered him a lifeline, and there was no looking back.

As his innings progressed, Dhawan began to hit the ball to different parts of the park. While the sixes were the obvious talking points, there was one particular pull, off Steyn, that took one's breath away. Banged in halfway down the track, the ball came up to Dhawan's chest. For a man who loves to stay leg side of the ball, Dhawan was back and across in a flash, getting on top of the ball and pulling it with such ferocity that fine-leg couldn't even move the five yards required to get to it. Steyn, angry Steyn, I-hate-being-hit Steyn, stood flabbergasted. In a catatonic state. Disbelieving. Then, slowly, he smiled at the man who was once his Sunrisers Hyderabad captain. Not a knowing smile, but just a smile of admiration. 'Well done, skip,' he might have been saying, 'let's try again.' So Steyn banged another in short in the same over, and Dhawan gave it the same treatment. Only, this time it went on the bounce straight to Morkel on the fence. Who didn't have to move an inch. Just a single. But a reaffirmative single, nonetheless.

The Cardiff hundred was a carefree ton, an expression of confidence and authority. This was more thoughtful and well crafted, and the circumstances under which it came made it even more satisfying. "I would rate this century a notch higher than the one I got at Cardiff," Dhawan told bcci.tv. "I played with a lot of common sense. I put a lot of thought into my batting and I feel I have matured a lot since that knock. I feel I have a better understanding of the game now and I have learnt with time. I am sure my game will only get better from here.

"I feel the calmness in my temperament has reflected in my batting and helped me get the results."

"It feels great to be back in form. I have been waiting for this moment for the past three months. I would like to thank the almighty and the support staff, the captain and my teammates, who have backed me during those times and believed in my abilities. All I can say is I am enjoying my batting at the moment. I tried my best to stay calm during that phase. I never got afraid or troubled when runs were not coming. I always had the belief that the tough days will be followed by the good ones. It was important for me to stay mentally calm and stable at that time. I feel the calmness in my temperament has reflected in my batting and helped me get the results."

Dhawan played a massive role in India's run to the title in the Champions Trophy with scores of 114, 102*, 48, 68 and 31. With knocks of 73 and 137, he has warmed up nicely for the bigger challenges ahead in his maiden World Cup. Family man, yes, but for now, no ordinary man, Dhawan with a sense of the occasion.

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