“Afghanistan, for him, was a cup of tea and biscuit on a rainy morning”
Everything about Shikhar Dhawan reeks of aggression. When you know you have the tendency to go after most balls in Test cricket, most players restrain themselves, playing out of their skin to defend. Dhawan, though, is in the Sehwag-mould and he wasn’t going to let Afghanistan enjoy their moment of glory.
The southpaw raced to a hundred before lunch on day one, becoming the first Indian and the sixth overall to the feat in Test cricket. While his partner, Murali Vijay, took more than expected time to accustom himself to the newbie Afghan seamers, Dhawan seemed completely at home against pace and spin alike, freeing his arms quite early in the innings to smash 18-year old Wafadar through the off-side.
As Yamin Ahmadzai continued to pester Vijay with his persistent lines and movement, Dhawan was quick to dispell the aura surrounding the opposition bowlers. He drove with conviction, flicked with authority and barely had to pull with Afghan seamers looking to hit a channel with the ball seaming and swinging a touch.
It wasn’t long before Asghar Stanikzai turned to his trusted allies, the spinners. “In Afghanistan, the brilliant thing is that a lot of the young talent that is coming through are spinners, because they all follow Rashid, they follow Nabi, so because of that our spin department is very strong from below. In my opinion, we have good spinners, better spinners than India,” Stanikzai had said a day before the start of the Test match.
The over that changed everything
This was about Rashid Khan and his crafty guile against an aggressor in the mood to swing the bat in all directions. Afghanistan themselves, and mostly the media, had built Rashid Khan as the wall that would prevent India from penetrating the Afghan fort.
Yet, the leg-spinner bowled a rubbish full toss, used his trump card, the googly, twice in the first over, bowled short and helped Dhawan stamp his authority over him. The Delhiite, not one to miss out, caressed and bashed Rashid Khan to the fence thrice, making 13 of the over.
It changed everything about the contest. Even when Dhawan was going through his motions against Ahmadzai and Wafadar, the general notion was that the introduction of spin would ease things for Afghanistan. Instead, it turned worse and then turned into a nightmare.
Rashid’s first four overs – the ones that usually end his spell in T20s – leaked 34 runs as the Gabbar stood tall over his foe. There was no stopping Dhawan today. He was getting behind the line of the ball, hitting through the line and attacking with the freedom of a school kid, all the while maintaining his shape.
Things only got worse for Afghanistan as Dhawan was gifted width and length to slash amply. To their credit, Stanikzai stuck to his field and hoped his spinners would put a leash on their child-play. Nothing of the sort conjured up. Dhawan continued to make merry, Vijay found his mojo against the spinners and India were away. At one point, it seemed impossible for Afghanistan to even think of buying a wicket.
Half-way through the opening session, Dhawan had already pasted Rashid, Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman. The mystery spinners, the so-called threats in Afghanistan’s line of attack, appeared defeated. The captain, whose boisterous voice in the press conference had critics praising the fresher’s confidence, appeared lost.
Googlies, knuckleballs and arm balls unfurled at the rate of knots from the spinners. Dhawan was least bothered. He swept, slogged, stepped down to hit down the ground and was lifting his helmet even before lunch on day one.
This was the third time Dhawan was scoring 100 or more in a session of Test cricket. Only Don Bradman had done it more often (six times). No Indian had scored 100 by lunch on day one of a Test match although the man he most closely resembles in style of play, Virender Sehwag, made 99 once.
The same Dhawan who had lost in South Africa was bossing the bowlers around like he owned 90% shares in Test cricket. The sub-continent was Dhawan’s playground. Average Test sides were his bread and butter. Only one of his seven hundreds has come outside the sub-continent. The last four of his hundreds before this had come against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Afghanistan, for him, was a cup of tea and biscuit on a rainy morning. He lived for such attacks. He lived for such moments of glory. He could have made 400 yesterday but he fell for 107, with 94 of those coming in boundaries. That happens to be the highest percentage of runs in boundaries in Test cricket for a score of 100 or more. Records were broken with ease. As Afghanistan made a rather late comeback into the game, India were thankful for Dhawan’s early onslaught. Without that, they might well have been playing catch-up game on day 2.