This article is from Wisden India.
The Shikhar Dhawan that fronted up for the World Cup games against Pakistan and South Africa was fairly unrecognisable from the man who answered to that name during the preceding triangular series, or the Test series against Australia even before that. It wasn't so much only because he made 73 and 137 respectively; it was because he looked tighter, and felt for the ball less outside the off stump.
Then again, especially during the triangular series, Dhawan hardly spent any time in the middle to offer a realistic indication of his form. In the first three matches combined, he only lasted 22 deliveries in making 11 runs, nicked off behind the stumps in each of those knocks. It wasn't until India came to the WACA ground for their last game, against England, that Dhawan found some semblance of form, surviving 85 minutes and 65 balls before being caught behind again, this time for 38.
"Of course, it's always a learning thing. I enjoy the journey rather than the destination. So I was enjoying that phase of my life too, and I learned a lot."
That WACA knock was, in many ways, responsible for the left-hand opening batsman rediscovering his confidence, as much as anything else. He then went back to work at the nets, making very minor adjustments, and the results have followed swiftly.
Dhawan spoke of those difficult times ahead of India's match against UAE at the WACA on Saturday (February 28). "I was staying calm," said Dhawan as he reflected on that period. "I was just staying calm and working hard, keeping my work ethics strong. Of course, it's always a learning thing. I enjoy the journey rather than the destination. So I was enjoying that phase of my life too, and I learned a lot. I changed a little few things, but not any major things. Maybe you won't be able to see them; it's that little bit something.
"You can say that I've gotten used to the bounce finally," he laughed. "I always have a lot of shots and I enjoy playing my shots. Whenever I get a chance, whenever I get loose deliveries, I go for my shots. It's good to see it's going the way I want and I'm enjoying it. The pull and the cut, they are my shots. Whenever I get the opportunity, whether I am in good form or not, I play those shots, I back myself and play those shots."
Dhawan wasn't merely paying lip service when he said that the team would play the game against UAE with the same intensity that had characterised their wins over Pakistan and South Africa. "We are going to approach it the same way," he emphasised. "We've had a few off days to relax. We're going to prepare ourselves for tomorrow; we are going to play the game the way we have been playing. We play the game the way it has to be played, and we're going to play with the same fighting spirit and going to keep the same intensity tomorrow. Our first two games were against very big sides. We have got a lot of confidence from the fact that we won so well against them. With those wins, you get momentum too. Our aim is to carry that momentum forward."
At the same time, Dhawan was wary about looking too far ahead into the competition. "Our strategies and plans, we are implementing them well. Whatever is working, we will keep following it. We have played at the WACA against England; we know how much bounce to expect. The boys got match experience, which is a very good thing. We can use that experience in tomorrow's match. But we would like to take it step by step. First focus on tomorrow's match, then depending on how it goes, we will look to top the group. Then we have the quarters, we will think about it at that time."
Dhawan now has a home in Melbourne - his wife and kids live here when he is away playing cricket most of the time - and is clearly taken in by what Australia has to offer as a nation. "Australia's a very beautiful country, very systematic. I've got a home here now and my family lives here, so I enjoy coming over here. I hardly get time to come over," he said. "This is the first time I've stayed in Australia for such a long time. I enjoy being at home with my family. Australia is one of the best places to play cricket. This was my first tour of Australia and my first World Cup, so I'm really enjoying it."
India have been received spectacularly well by the fans here in Australia and are top of the popularity charts, with more than 86,000 fans cramming the MCG during the win over South Africa. Speaking on behalf of the team, Dhawan expressed his gratitude for the support. "It's a great feeling to have so many fans over here, especially what we saw in Melbourne in the last game. It was amazing to see so many Indians at the MCG. I really enjoyed playing in front of 86,000 people. It makes us feel very good that our fans followed us here and they gave us so much importance. I feel because of them we get that extra edge."