This article is from Wisden India.
By Anand Vasu
A full ball on the pads, a nervy turn of the blade to deflect the ball, a hared single, and Shikhar Dhawan held his pose at the other end. Chest puffed out, back arched, arms in the air in triumph, Dhawan was soaking in the moment. There were only a few more than 10,000 people in the crowd at Seddon Park in Hamilton on Tuesday (March 10), but a sizeable majority were Indian fans, so vociferous that they would have shouted down the competition even if outnumbered.
Cricket has been a slightly odd game to Dhawan. After what can only be called a false start to international cricket - his two-ball duck against Australia in Visakhapatnam lasted all of a minute - came the most dramatic reinvention of technique, and, to an extent, temperament. The result was a Test debut against the same opposition that none can forget. Replacing Virender Sehwag, Dhawan's blade flashed rapier-like for a little over four hours, 187 coming at better than a run-a-ball in Mohali.
Since then, the game has given joy, but sporadically, and consistency has evaded. Dhawan played a crucial hand in India's Champions Trophy winning run in England in 2013, where he made more runs than anyone else, 363 from five matches including two hundreds. If the big tournament, in demanding conditions in England, brought the best out of Dhawan, his game tailed away after.
Going into the World Cup, only a brave man would have picked Dhawan to top the likes of Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina when it came to hunger for runs. Ravi Shastri, the team director and eternal positivist, was one such, telling Indian journalists that Dhawan would be a star at the World Cup, even before a big innings had been played.
What has happened since is sufficiently dramatic. With centuries against South Africa and Ireland, both times after being reprieved via dropped catches, Dhawan only has Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara ahead of him on the run charts.
To suggest that Dhawan has made any dramatic adjustments to his technique would be disingenuous, for most batsmen look good when they're making runs by the bucketful. But, the fact that the team persisted with Dhawan was not a complete mystery, as Mahendra Singh Dhoni revealed. "I think he's prepared well and he kept believing in himself. Because it's always the individual that starts to question that belief, because everybody believes in the individual, but at times you start questioning yourself. I felt his preparation was good, and that's what really helped him score runs," said Dhoni. "You know, it's important to back players, and we try to do it to the extent we can. We always believed in him. But the final step that needs to be taken from the individual. It's those 15 minutes that really changes everything, and I'm glad he got those 15 minutes. What he's doing well is making the most out of it."
Dhawan's game is an odd one. His weaknesses seem fairly obvious. He plays very uppishly when dealing with the short, wide ball and, oddly enough, the full ball coming into him or straightening finds a way to burst through the bat-pad gap. Equally, Dhawan hits the ball in odd places, making it difficult to set a field to him. Dhawan explores angles that other left-hand batsmen seldom do, and this is a bowler's nightmare.
"Whatever your limitations are, you keep improving on those areas. Whatever your strength is, you make sure that whenever it is in that particular area you make the most out of it by getting a boundary. But overall the difference I've seen in his batting is once he gets a start he makes a good score," said Dhoni. "He's not someone who is happy getting a 50. He knows that the team needs him to score big runs. So once he gets to his 50, he hits the next milestone, which is a hundred. With him doing that, it becomes slightly easy for some of the other guys to bat around him. He's someone who can also accelerate at a decent pace. He uses the pace of the bowler and can bat aggressively. So all in all, I'm quite happy with the way he's gone forward."
When Dhawan has made a hundred with India batting first, they have never racked up anything less than 294, and on three other occasions they have topped 300.
While Dhoni might have precise explanations for why a successful Dhawan makes for a happy Indian dressing room, the statistics tell their own story. When Dhawan has made a hundred with India batting first, they have never racked up anything less than 294, and on three other occasions they have topped 300. Batting second, Dhawan has four centuries, one of which ensured that India hunted down a target of 350.
Whether you want analysis or prefer to take it on good faith, the truth is simple. When Dhawan goes big, India do exceptionally well. That's enough reason to back a player who can occasionally drive you to distraction with his inconsistency.