India v Australia, 3rd Test, Mohali March 13, 2013

Finally, Dhawan's chance to shine

The 27-year-old has often frustrated himself with inconsistent performances, but has come back stronger and mature, say team-mates and coaches
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The two-day Gang of Four soap opera has done the implausible: diverted attention from India in India. India will be pleased. Not least Shikhar Dhawan, who will on Thursday step into the space once occupied by Virender Sehwag - at least, on the scorecard.

Dhawan, 27, is another opener off the production line from Delhi. If Sehwag make-shifted into the position and turned it his own, Aakash Chopra, Gautam Gambhir and now Dhawan have always been fully-certified openers.

Dhawan's move up the order to an India Test spot has come from the poor run of form for both Sehwag and Gambhir. Until now, Dhawan has had to bide his time through the better part of nine years in first-class cricket, due to Sehwag and Gambhir's occupation of the opening slots, and the crests and troughs of his own career. This season, though, Dhawan finds himself on a crest that he hopes will last longer.

His inclusion in the Indian team, before the series against Australia, came on the back of 833 first-class runs at 55.53, which included four hundreds and three fifties. This is Dhawan's most prolific season, and in it, his colleagues and coaches see signs of maturity, which should help him tide over what have so far been his turbulent twenties.

A free-stroking left-hand batsman with dazzling shots square of the wicket, Dhawan is at his best when playing freely. His Delhi team-mate, Rajat Bhatia, says that over the last few seasons he has seen "a much more mature player who understands the importance of big runs". Another Delhi player, Mithun Manhas, says Dhawan's appetite for big scores has only grown. "He is focused on his game, and knows how to take care of his weaknesses, as much as he concentrates on his strengths," Manhas said.

Delhi coach Vijay Dahiya tells a story of two seasons, and specifically two matches, both at Delhi's most seamer-friendly venue, the Roshanara Club Ground. In December 2010, Delhi had to score 136 in the fourth innings to beat Railways. They muffed the chase, losing by 22 runs, with Dhawan pilloried for his dismissal.

In December 2012, Maharashtra set Delhi a target of 270 at the same venue, where their highest successful chase had been 160. Delhi won by seven wickets, with Dhawan not out on 116. He was involved in two major partnerships. Dhawan had said to his coach then, "I messed it up the last time. This time I wanted to make sure I didn't."

In Mohali, a ground he is familiar with, Dhawan gets another chance to lift his game even higher. He is famous in India for being the top-scorer and the player of the tournament in the 2004 Under-19 World Cup. Team-mates in that junior squad included Suresh Raina, Robin Uthappa and RP Singh, who have since then played 31 Tests, 255 ODIs and 57 T20 internationals between them.

Dhawan's time with India has been all of five ODIs, and a T20 International in 2011, when he was roped in because of his shot-making skills and extraordinarily high fielding and fitness levels. It turned pear-shaped for him in his brief stint with India, but Dhawan's sudden spurts of performances in domestic cricket have always kept him in the mix. He has been on India A squads to Australia, England and the West Indies over those nine seasons. His best performance on those three tours was his 179 against Yorkshire in a three-day match in 2010.

What was missing from Dhawan's game was a consistent run, across not merely a handful of matches but through entire seasons. His school coach, Madan Sharma, is relieved that Dhawan has begun to convert attractive 60s and 70s into bigger scores.

"He's at an age when batsmen mature, between 26 and 30," Madan said. "While he has always been hard-working, he has learnt tough lessons, and grown to where he now understands how important it is to protect his wicket, and which ball to leave."

The younger Dhawan, according to Sharma, was a careless batsman, who had a "lift-maar-ke-out [lofting-and-getting-out]" approach to batting. He is now gratified to find that the older Dhawan has found what could be the even keel he has been critically missing so far.

Dahiya sees a batsman who has worked on his technique against the short ball, has looked "very solid" on his front foot, and has found a way to be carefree after the frustrations of an unpredictable career. "He's become mentally stronger," Dahiya said.

In an interview earlier this year, Dhawan explained it simply, "I realised that I was not using my brains, but only my talent." He has made it a habit of noting down his observations from a net session or an innings, and going through them during the season. Bhatia has first-hand experience of Dhawan's intensity around his batting from the many discussions after a day's play. About how different batsmen would handle the ball that dismissed him.

Bhatia said: "I would always say to him, 'Don't concentrate so hard on your technique. Concentrate on watching the bowler, watching the ball and on scoring runs.'" Consistently.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • usernames on March 14, 2013, 20:23 GMT

    @Sammy K -- I figure Bangladesh haven't struck that formula either, have they? Lose at home, lose abroad. Make people wonder why you even have a test status. Producing absolutely nothing of note in more than a decade. Produce some pretty pathetic players at best, and then throw stones at other teams' buses for winning against your lions, or perhaps lambs. Pretty interesting a formula, if you ask me.

  • usernames on March 14, 2013, 20:20 GMT

    To PrasoonYadav, a word of advice:

    A player's job is to play the way he knows best. Taming the ball wouldn't have made Sehwag the opener that he was. Similarly, trying to curb your instincts, and trying to be too aggressive or defensive when your natural game is something else will, more often than not, lead to failure.

    Adaptability is a different thing. All good players adapt. Sehwag, in his prime, has played some marvellous attritional innings. You see the situation, you see the team, you change your game slightly. But that doesn't apply all the time. If you completely change your game just because you are an opener, you're gone before you know it.

    You know the best piece of advice? It's to not listen to anyone. Look, some very, very privileged players get to represent their country. It's a massive honor. Go ahead and give it your best. You can't control the results, so don't fuss about them too much. Just do what you would do. Don't feel the pressure to do things a certain way.

  • dummy4fb on March 14, 2013, 15:58 GMT

    India has struck an interesting formula. Play at home mostly and trounce the tourists convincingly with spin and runs a galore. Lose a few games abroad. Who cares? Your high rankings are not affected. The Steins and Morkels of the world can do what they want. A few losses to them is easy to take.

  • dummy4fb on March 14, 2013, 10:51 GMT

    @hystericalnaive, I guess I wasn't clear enough in my post. I wasn't advocating Chand and Jiwanjot to be selected for the national team straightaway. But if we continue to depend on Ranji Trophy as grooming ground for upcoming players we're always going to struggle on pacy and/or bouncy wickets abroad. We were lucky to have naturally and immensely gifted batsmen like Dravid, Tendulkar, and Laxman in the same team but generally our domestic circuit is only going to produce the Vijays, Dhawans, and Mukunds. My point was to expose young batters like Chand, Jiwanjot, Aparajith, Bawne, and Bist in testing foreign conditions as much as possible in order to secure our future from the pov of competing well all around the world. I do not claim to be an expert of the game though and there may be better ways.

  • Sir.Ivor on March 14, 2013, 7:35 GMT

    Anand Singh. Thank you for the correction that it was Blewett and not Waugh who had got out in a similar manner. My intention was only say that Slater and Waugh were very successful at the highest level, despite having got bowled or lbw or caught behind to a similar delivery from Srinath. Rahane is technically sound basically but as we saw,he got out twice in ODIs to the incoming ball, bowled through the gap between bat and pad. I am sure he has since taken note and we may not see the same thing happen. Also, when you read the length wrong, then the ball gets the chance to move and move through the gap since the bat and pad are not close to where it pitched. That seems like the batsman having read the line wrong ! Th point is that Rahane is a good batsman and I find it unfortunate that he has not got his chances yet. He hooks pulls and square cuts almost by instinct. He is as Gavaskar said, a touch player, whose lofted cover drives as he played against Irfan,are simply brilliant.

  • its.rachit on March 14, 2013, 6:54 GMT

    @deckchairand6pack - if u need to reduce the batting averages of Indians by 5, then u need to decrease the bowling averges of the australian bowlers by 5 ... which would made the siddles and johnsons average 35 ....

  • Analyst_pisupati on March 14, 2013, 6:10 GMT

    In India, its okay to have Dhawan. But for SA, Australia, England and NZ, we should have Gambhir and may be Rohit as openers with Murali Vijay as stand by. Gambhir has the technique and determination. He can introspect and adjust. Atleast, he will not throw his wicket. Similarly Rohit has the ability and we must try him there. The Batsmen who should be considered are for these countries: Gambhir, Rohit, Vijay, Pujara, Virat, Chand, Badrinath, Dinesh Karthik, Rayudu

  • hystericalnaive on March 14, 2013, 6:09 GMT

    @Rahul Gokhale: I do not know what's ur cricketing background or how much of cricket you have played, but you surely have the talent to spot the spark. @Devika Udolphe: When you talk about grooming Chand/Jiwanjot SIngh, they are yet to achieve what Dhawan has achieved in Ranji trophy. So let them reach that level. CHand has played U-19 cricket last year, and Dhawan played in 2004 U19 world cup. Experience doesn't grow on trees. Perform in Ranji and then come up. @Vikram Samal: yes I kind of agree with you, , Ajinkya has also performed heavily. Its really a close fight between these two, so just as Rahane got his chance and did not perform as well as expected by the selectors, Dhawa got his chance this time, lets see how he can grasp it. In this age of cricket, where the expectation is high, people try to compare them with Dravid/Saurav/Tendulkar and want them to perform from day 1 just like Saurav and Dravid did in their debut. So when Rahane dissapointed them, Dhawal was the choice.

  • dummy4fb on March 14, 2013, 5:51 GMT

    Even his domestic scores are pretty average than others. An average of 45 plus in Indian conditions does not bode well for an opener. There are so many people with average above 50 plus in domestic circuit and fails miserably when facing quality attacks. Also his ODI numbers are pathetic. So whatever chance he got, he has not grabbed. Will have to wait and watch.

  • pankenstein on March 14, 2013, 5:45 GMT

    Did you see him turn his back in H'bad even BEFORE the batsman had hit the bowl [saw it live on online streaming]...as a top order batsman I hope he never takes his eyes off the ball. I truly wish him luck and all the best ...don't want to see him hurt. Really.