“Yes, he might at times be overshadowed by the more hyped Rohit, but when it comes to putting a price on his wicket and hardly slipping in crunch moments, Dhawan continues to be the go-to man and the saviour”.
The helmet is thrown down. The leap of jump is almost a custom and the wave of the hands a must. Soon the outstretched arms and the broad chest turn up to acknowledge the cheers all around and the smile refuses to stop forth. Almost on instinct, the pointy end of the mustache is handed the famous twirl, much to the amusement of the packed crowd, who chant out his name even louder than before.
In a game where solemnity threatens to loom large, panache and flamboyance can go a long way in curbing the monotony that can seep onto the field. Whilst Sir Vivian Richards was greatly responsible for bringing in the aura of superstardom into cricket, it was carried on elegantly by Imran Khan, who carved out his own legacy outside the cricketing field as well. Shane Warne and Chris Gayle have all stood up to carry on the ever-growing trail of players who have achieved a cult status away from the cricketing field and Shikhar Dhawan, with a nonchalant attacking spree has been following the trend with ease.
Making his debut in 2010, the left-hander was often shoved aside by the duo of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag. Whilst the national team brought him on board for just 5 ODI games in three years, he sweated it out in the lower rungs, hopeful that one day his fortunes would change and he too would gain a permanent seat in the side. His record-breaking Test debut in Mohali against the mighty Australians, when he became the fastest debutant to reach a hundred, incidentally coincided with the poor run of form by both Sehwag and Gambhir, and he was converted into a permanent opener in the longer formats of the game.
But his calling lay elsewhere. He thrived in situations when the target had to be locked in a specified number of overs and the flurry of shots that he unfurled in the field restrictions enabled him to open himself up more as the innings progressed. Though he had taken massive strides in his Test career, somewhere the ODI format remained his ultimate dream.
While the Champions Trophy that was staged in England in 2013 is earmarked as the trophy that heralded Rohit Sharma’s incarnation, many often ignore the contributions of Dhawan as well. In 5 games, he scored 363 runs, with two hundreds at an average of 90.75 and with it began a journey of resolute and grit; of innate potential, interspersed with levels of consistency and constancy.
One still remembers the overcast day in Cardiff; when Dhawan set out, bat in tow, with Rohit in the Group B encounter against South Africa. With a relatively inexperienced team that was not given much of a chance, MS Dhoni’s India was considered a meek rival- one who had just been ripped of their world championship tag by poor outings in overseas conditions. Sans most of their 2011 World Cup winning members, Rohit and Dhawan had the stiff job of pushing India through. As the former recorded a fine fifty, Dhawan raced away to 94-ball 114 and as before, the helmets were thrown down and the outstretched arms rose up to acknowledge the cheers from those around. The twirl of a mustache later, the player was back doing what he did best.
A moment to relish
In the Pink ODI on Saturday, as one witnessed a warrior in blue amidst the waves in pink enacting out the now-so-familiar scene in his 100th ODI game, one could not help but ponder at his maturity ever since that day in Cardiff. In the five years, he has considerably strengthened his technique against the short ball. The pulls and the drives send one in a tizzy and the deliveries outside the off-stump, that have proved to be a major nemesis of a number of players, hardly bothers him.
When bowlers cramp him up for room, he abandons his shots towards the off-side. When rivals don’t allow him to freely go for the cut, he mellows down and looks for the other routes of attack. In the fourth ODI in Johannesburg, when the Proteas did not allow him to play the cut till the 43rd over, he looked towards the long-on and the leg region, throwing most of his shots in that area.
As he became only the first Indian and the ninth player overall to record a hundred in his hundredth game, one was only forced to have a glance at his numbers, which have somewhere been buried due to the growing prominence of his opening partner.
13 tons in 100 games at an average of 46.33. An average of 42.93 in Australia; 71.33 in England and 56.60 in South Africa- lands all considered a burning hole for the players from the sub-continent. Furthermore, it is his numbers in ICC events that vehemently stand out. He averages a whopping 62.14 in the World Cup, which was held in 2015, and 77.88 in the two editions of the Champions Trophy. Along with this, a career strike-rate of 93.47 astutely states the impact that the Delhiite has had on the team in the recent years and also his growing stature in world cricket. Yes, he might at times be overshadowed by the more hyped Rohit, but when it comes to putting a price on his wicket and hardly slipping in crunch moments, Dhawan continues to be the go-to man and the saviour.