'Mature' Dhawan looks to grab Test chance
Shikhar Dhawan, the left-hand opener, was told he had been picked in the India Test squad for the series against Australia shortly after the tea break during the just-concluded Irani Cup. He welcomed the news, he said, with a big smile, but knowing he was a slightly changed cricketer than he was when picked to represent India for the first time, more than two years ago in an ODI against Australia. "I've become more mature, my cricket sense has improved and that's helped my consistency level go up," he told ESPNcricinfo.
Dhawan last played for India in June 2011 - he averages 13.8 in five ODIs - and had a mixed domestic season in 2011-12, smashing a hundred at better than a run a ball in each innings of the Irani Cup before having a low-key Ranji Trophy during which he averaged 32.88 in 10 innings.
However, his performances this season have caught the selectors' eye. He scored a century in each of North Zone's two games in the Duleep Trophy, hit two hundreds and a fifty for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy at 51.22, scored a century against England XI in a warm-up limited-overs game and made a solid 63 in the first innings of the Irani Cup.
Though his skills haven't changed much in his time outside the Indian team, Dhawan said he has grown more determined to rectify any mistakes during batting or while at the nets. "I write down how I played, little details about the way I batted, the way I was feeling," he said. "As I practice for the longer forms, I make sure I leave a lot more in the nets, stay on the wicket, play close to my body, and try to hit shots to balls that are within reach. My mental strength has increased a lot."
While out of the Indian side, Dhawan, now 27, has seen cricketers younger than him - Virat Kohli, a Delhi team-mate, and Cheteshwar Pujara - establish themselves in the national team. He says he was never discouraged, and now could get an opportunity to become a regular himself. "I was sad for myself that I didn't make it because I always knew I had the potential."
Dhawan was bowled off an inside-edge in the first innings of the Irani Cup when he looked set for a three-figure score, and fell in the first over in the second innings, caught at mid-on while trying to pull. "I felt sad as a batsman, I had got in touch [in the first innings] and wanted to make it big [in the second]," but there was elation not long after. That duck was a rare lapse in a successful domestic first-class season, one that has ended for Dhawan receiving a call-up that every aspiring Indian cricketer longs for.
Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo