Dhawan's calm contempt blows away Australia
For the better part of his turbo-charged, fireworks display of a debut century, which shredded records and caused a stir, Shikhar Dhawan showed no signs of nerve or panic. He raced through the 60s to his 90s in 15 balls as if he was weaving his way through traffic in his hometown Delhi, with music on top, thumping volume and the sunglasses on. On 91, Dhawan edged Peter Siddle past a diving gully's hands, but his cool stayed unrattled.
On 99, though, there came a flash. Of anxiety or desperation, of what looked like the stark hunger that must have kept him going through first-class cricket. Dhawan push-dropped one from Siddle, called for a run that never was and charged. It was a blind, suicidal mini-mission that had "oh-no" written all over it.
For close to nine years following his stunning performances in under-19 cricket, Dhawan had waited for his Test debut. In Mohali, he couldn't bear to wait even one more ball to do what, until today, he must have only dreamt of. As the throw was fired through, Dhawan's full-length dive for the crease was less panther and more hopeful pilgrim. The ball shot past the stumps and Dhawan went from being flat on his face and onto his feet in seconds.
The helmet was pulled off and from under it emerged a grin larger than the stadium. Dhawan threw his head back and arms into the air. No matter where his career goes from here, on this one afternoon, Shikhar Dhawan was, to himself and those watching, king of the world.
On Saturday, his innings of 185 not out was India's prime driver of what can only be called batting on speed. Dhawan's own signature is now in the history books, the fastest Test century on debut, and the highest score by an Indian on Test debut. It has opened up possibilities for India in the Test, with time and a wearing pitch now on their side.
Australia know that in the course of two hours, they were pushed on to thin ice by Dhawan and the best that they can do in Mohali is draw the game. Dhawan's century, in its tempo and silken ferocity, also turned into an odd homage to Virender Sehwag, the Delhi senior man whose place he has taken.
India ended the day on 283 for no loss in reply to Australia's 408. For the second Test in a row, M Vijay, batting on 83, found a sedate, lower gear and allowed Dhawan to have his moment in the sun. After stumps Dhawan said that, despite his ear-ringed, poker face, he had in fact felt anxious, "No, I was nervous, but you didn't realise it. No, I was certainly nervous, but I wasn't as nervous as I used to be earlier."
Until today, Dhawan's presence in the field had been virtually invisible. He misfielded the first ball that came his way on Friday and as non-striker, during the lone over India had to bat before lunch, had wandered out of his crease. The ball slipped out of Mitchell Starc's hand, hit the stumps, with Dhawan a foot out of his ground. A smiling Michael Clarke had made some jokey third-umpire signs and the over then formally began. Had the Aussies appealed, Dhawan might or might not have been deemed safe by the umpires, but it would still have been a nervous start.*
When his first run came, a single through covers, his partner Vijay came over to acknowledge and reassure. On television, Ravi Shastri's voice was sardonic, "First for me. Never seen anybody being congratulated for scoring one run."
Over the next two hours, Dhawan settled in and produced an innings that ended up being a first in many ways for most watching. To the Australian bowling, his batting was a geometry lesson in contempt. He was assured on his front foot, had enough time to adjust his shots and find precise gaps in the field. When he was given a short ball, he played the pull efficiently, without hesitation. The off side was packed, but to Dhawan, the fielders were either woven through or zipped past.
By the time he got to his century, Dhawan had scored 84 runs off boundaries, but his first shots in the air came only after he'd gone past 100. Dhawan stepped out to medium-pacers and spinners alike and carved up sections of the ground as if it were cake to be eaten. Even the unfailingly polite and considerate VVS Laxman couldn't contain himself, saying Australia had an "average bowling attack." Dhawan didn't miss a moment to let it show. For all Australia's good intentions and plans (and this is without homework jokes), Dhawan showed them their place in these conditions and on this pitch.
He was severe on Moises Henriques, hitting cover drives on the up, walking out against a short ball before drilling it square. Xavier Doherty got the heaviest treatment, 18 runs in his fourth over, turning the bowler's plans inside out. He was driven against the spin, then reverse-swept when Clarke moved out of slip, dispatched past three men through the covers and then paddle-swept to the boundary again.
Dhawan's Delhi team-mates are cackling with delight. Old pro Rajat Bhatia says he can tell how Dhawan's innings are going to go from the first few balls. Immaculate defence, blocking and plodding is a bad sign. If he looks to get the strike moving, taking singles and playing strokes, things are looking good. In Mohali, Dhawan took three balls to get off strike and had hit his first boundary off Siddle off his sixth ball. It had to be his day.
* 6.48pm GMT, March 16: The copy has been updated after reviewing the laws of the game.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo