'I just want to grab this opportunity' - Dhawan
At the halfway point of the series, India and Australia find themselves in unrecognisable situations. India are going to field an opener in place of Virender Sehwag, but aren't sweating. Australia, with a series to save, have chosen to bench four players of whom at least three would have played in Mohali.
Shikhar Dhawan, the opener who will replace Sehwag who has been dropped after India went 2-0 up in the series, said the team had steered clear of the Australian turmoil and was approaching the third Test like they had the start of the series. "The confidence of the team is high but as our coach told us, we have to start afresh," he said. "We had a break after the second Test, so we want to go with the same attitude and same energy on the field as we did before the start of the series."
Dhawan said the Indians "don't know" what was happening with the Australians, but he was well aware that James Pattinson, their bowler of the series so far, won't be playing. Dhawan said he expected the vacancy to be filled efficiently. "Their fast bowlers have always been good," he said. "Even if there is no Pattinson, there will be someone who can step up for them. Pace has always been their strength. We have to play good cricket irrespective of what kind of attack we are up against."
Dhawan, 27, came into contention for India following an excellent domestic season, scoring four centuries and three fifties. He was informed of his place in the Mohali Test last evening by captain MS Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher. "I was very happy to hear the news," Dhawan said. "I just want to grab this opportunity. Of course I was waiting for this day, but I don't have any pressure right now. I am happy that whatever I dreamt of achieving, I have done that."
Dhawan said that when he walks out to represent India, he will remember the advice given to him by the man he has replaced, Sehwag. "When Viru pa-ji (a term of endearment for elder brother) was in the side for the last two matches, I was speaking to him about his experience of making India debut," he said. "There will be nerves but at the same time you have to perform well for your side. I guess it's the same with every player. He just told me to concentrate on my strengths. Also I keep watching all these seniors in the nets, and keep picking small things from them to better myself."
Dhawan will be opening the Indian innings alongside M Vijay, his partner during the recent Irani Cup during which Vijay scored a century that pitchforked him once again into the Indian XI. Batting with Vijay, Dhawan said, will be a "great comfort factor".
"We have played together in the Irani Cup, so that coordination is there between us," Dhawan said. "We have that understanding between us while running between the wickets. So that would help me in this match."
His partnership with Vijay, Dhawan said, could not have "the pressure of comparison" with the Gambhir-Sehwag combine because of the older pair's longevity. "They have played for so many years and have done well for India," Dhawan said. "But they have achieved whatever they have over a period of time. It doesn't happen overnight. Hopefully if we perform well over a period of time, we will be regarded as good as them."
Dhawan is in his ninth year in first-class cricket, and has scored 5679 runs from 81 games at an average of 45.79, with 16 centuries and 24 half-centuries. He said his first-class experience with Delhi has made him secure about his game going into the Mohali Test. "In the first year [of first-class cricket] not many opponents will know about your game," Dhawan said. "By the time you are into third or fourth year, the opponents would have found out your strengths and weaknesses and they will work on it. Bowlers will test your patience. Especially in north, where we play on green tops, if you keep performing in these challenging conditions you get that confidence that you are ready for the next level."
Dhawan said that at this stage of his career he feels lucky to have spent so many years in domestic cricket. "That fact that I am making my Test debut with that experience, I feel more confident."
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo