India v SA, Champions Trophy, Group B, Cardiff June 6, 2013

Fearless Dhawan embraces his challenge

First Test cricket, now one-day cricket. There has been a hint of Virender Sehwag with the way Shikhar Dhawan has launched his career

Twice during his innings Shikhar Dhawan escaped to the dressing room to relieve himself. Earlier, even before Morne Morkel had bowled the first ball of Champions Trophy, Dhawan had signalled the 12th man to fetch his elbow guard, which he had forgotten before walking in.

Those were the only times Dhawan looked unsettled on an otherwise glorious day where he played the situation better than any other batsman. Just like he had done in Mohali during his debut Test match, Dhawan opened his arms to embrace Cardiff and proudly celebrate his maiden ODI century.

In February, Dhawan sent a shudder through the world of cricket with the fastest century on Test debut, easily on the shortlist for the innings of the 21st century. It was an innings played with ferocious intensity where Dhawan never took his foot off the accelerator. Today was completely different.

Dhawan had scores of 1 and 17 in the two warm-up matches. This was the first time he was opening with Rohit Sharma, who himself had failed to get past single-digit scores in those two games in the past week. So both men had to fight their individual nerves even before they could face the short deliveries sent down by Morkel and Ryan McLaren.

Both men were hit, but both did not relent. The key was to leave the ball before they could start dictating their terms. In the first 10 overs India scored 53 for no loss. Although not sedate, it was a watchful beginning.

The challenge was to build on the start and both men helped the other by showing the keenness to rotate the strike. On the back of that good understanding, the pair managed to get past the 100-run mark, a feat not achieved since the Hamilton ODI in 2009 when Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag were involved in a 153-run opening stand. But when they finally seemed to have hit a confident stride, Rohit departed with a stroke that was an error in judgement.

But Dhawan hung in there and took advantage of the bad balls while imposing himself on unthreatening bowlers. Twice in Robin Peterson's second over he charged the left-arm spinner for confident fours. But the bowler he really felt comfortable against was Rory Kleinveldt. Numerous times Dhawan just walked out to swat, pull, hook, cut and loft Kleinveldt smartly, converting the bowler's aggression to his advantage.

One line of thought being suggested as to why Dhawan managed to prosper was the exaggerated use of the short-pitch ball by the South African bowlers and the other was the absence of Dale Steyn. While there is a merit in those points it is equally important to recognize Dhawan's talent and the supreme confidence he has at the moment.

Dhawan was forced to miss the final Test of the Australia series and the first half of the IPL, where he plays for Sunrisers Hyderabad, due to a finger injury sustained during the Mohali Test. But he made an instant impact on his comeback, ending up as the best batsman for Sunrisers, and in the top 20 for IPL, in his 10 matches. His success played an important role in Sunrisers entering the play-offs as the fourth team.

It is his bravado that makes Dhawan stand out. Being fearless was the basis of Sehwag's greatness and Dhawan plays the same brand of cricket. He does not have the gifted hand-eye coordination of Sehwag, but Dhawan has the courage. The courage to constantly walk out of his crease, to tease the bowler and tempt him to either attack him or force a change of line. And he has the flair. On 94, when Kleinveldt pitched on a good length and moved away from off stump, Dhawan went on the back foot to place a delicate cut between gully and deep point for a classy four.

AB de Villiers, who was Dhawan's team-mate at Delhi Daredevils in the IPL, said that he was not surprised at Dhawan's development. "He has got the whole package and I am sure he'll get better as his career goes along. He is a good player."

Yet Dhawan will agree that he is very new and soon teams will work him out. He is riding the wave of success at the moment and is on a high. Also this pitch was, barring the bounce it possessed, completely in favour of the batsmen. If they resisted anything silly they could convert the starts into big scores like Dhawan managed. But Dhawan also knows his back-foot play still is not convincing. His default trigger movement is to go forward and play the ball on the rise. And he is not afraid. But a good bowler can take advantage and in moving conditions that kind of technique could be fatal.

For now Dhawan is basking in his, and India's, success. He has the time to erase the grey areas one by one. And he is not worried for now. Asked to explain his cheerful personality on the pitch, Dhawan simply said: "Enjoy watching my partner's batting. Enjoy running between the wickets. Enjoy taking the pressure."

His team-mates, too, cannot thank him enough. As soon as Morkel, the final South African wicket, was bowled, Suresh Raina ran from long-on to long-off and hugged Dhawan. Virat Kohli, a good friend of Dhawan, plucked a stump and handed it to him.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Kishor on June 8, 2013, 23:10 GMT

    They said him scoring a test debut hundred was fluke... Now he has scored a one day debut hundred.. Hope more "flukes" come his way when we go to SA.

  • Manesh on June 7, 2013, 11:46 GMT

    It was an excellent innings from Dhavan. It wasn't easy to survive there in the initial overs without giving a chance. It was overcast and ball was swinging and more over two new balls to face as an open.Batting in the middle was not easy like calling it as a 'flat track' and 'friendly attack' .

  • Logan on June 7, 2013, 8:02 GMT

    I am a South African supporter 1st and 2nd India.I am a bit concerned that AB who is best suited for situations like this and having done more than 3/4 the work haas gifted his wicked.Was that shot necessary?? .This started the wroth , since the chase was very mountaneous the batsmen coming in started to panick and they also got out cheaply.Is this the best batting squad that SA have ??.The bowling was just as patheic as India's,may be I am overacting since its seems a batsman's paradise.SA cannot always rely on Steyn,although not playing in this game he will also have an off day.Also they don't look a confident side.AB stop suggesting that you have a plan against each player in the opposition since in reality this does not materialise.Probably my second fancied team will go to the semis.3 consecutive 300's , that tells you something about the batting power.

  • Sriram on June 7, 2013, 7:41 GMT

    @sandy_bangalore - What is challenging for you? Is it only when the ball seams, swings? His test century too was on a turner, yes he plays them with eyes closed. Do you know Ponting's record in India? Do you know Kallis record in England? Do you know Anderson's ODI records in Asian conditions when ball stops swinging? Don't be a cynic. A young Indian came out and enjoyed his cricket. Appreciate that. you know, i know and even Dhawan knows all good things do pause, if not totally end..he will have his moments, but he has worked hard on his technique and did him a world of good yesterday.

  • Dummy4 on June 7, 2013, 7:34 GMT

    One area where Sehwag is superior is that He is very still when he strikes the ball and with the Hand eye co-ordination, he wrecks. The eye when its gone changes your batting dramatically when you are stroke maker and same thing happened to Krish Srikanth. Dhawan has the biggest advantage which is his age which is the peaking age for most Cricketers.He reminds you of Des Haynes of the might Windies who can switch beautifully between attack and defense.

  • Amit on June 7, 2013, 7:09 GMT

    Bombay school of batting now in Delhi??? Dhawan has borrowed two things off his colleagues, the attitude of sehwag and possibly the technique against spinners off Gautam Gambhir. His celebrations indicate he enjoys playing the game - SIMPLESSS! That bright smile and the arms wide suggest joy and satisfaction borne out of a good innings and not 'career success'. Lets just enjoy this little period he has got going. There will be plenty of time for the audiences to slate him later. Only suggesting that his will be a longish career.

  • jijo on June 7, 2013, 5:44 GMT

    I can see many 100 run partnerships after 2009 in the link in the article. If the author meant 100 run outside India, he missed to mention it in the article. Also the one in 2009 was G Gambhir, V Sehwag of 201 runs. Get ur facts right boss !!

  • ESPN on June 7, 2013, 4:41 GMT

    what an innings similar to his test innings?,over 100 strike rate!

  • Mahesh on June 7, 2013, 4:39 GMT

    Sachin & Sehwag were involved in 153 run opening stand in Rajkot and not Hamilton. Hamilton stand was between Gauti & Viru which was for 201 runs..