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March 16, 2013
As he put together his whirlwind debut century, Shikhar Dhawan had it in the back of his head that he could have been run out without facing a ball.
As Mitchell Starc ran in to open the bowling in the Indian innings, the ball slipped out of his hand and fell onto the stumps at the non-striker's end. Dhawan, at that time, was a foot outside the crease.
It is debatable if he had been given out had Australia appealed. The umpires would have had to consider an important part of the manakading playing condition, which says, "The bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run out the non-striker." Since the ball had slipped out of his hand unintentionally, they could have concluded "an attempt had not been made".*
However, Dhawan thought he was gone. He found himself laughing, while the Australia captain Michael Clark made signs to the umpires to go up to the TV umpire in jest, and the incident passed without rancour.
Dhawan, who was batting on 185 at stumps on day three, said after play: "It was lunch after that over. I was laughing in the dressing room, that history could have been created, that without facing a ball I would have been out and back in the dressing room."
He returned after the break and, in the matter of a single session, rewrote history. He produced one of the most breathtaking of debut centuries in recent times: it was the fastest ever by a Test debutant (85 balls) and the highest score on debut for India, surpassing Gundappa Viswanath's 137 in Kanpur against Australia in 1969.
He was given his Test cap by Sachin Tendulkar before the match and Dhawan said Tendulkar's words to him had been simple: "He told me that we all have known you as a gutsy player, and you've been performing well on the domestic circuit. We'd like to see your gutsy nature and shots over here."
And so he did. Dhawan's strike rate so far in this Test innings has been just over 110, the numbers closer to 50-overs and T20 cricket. But Dhawan said he was in no hurry to score at a particular rate, nor did it form part of any larger team strategy. "I wasn't really playing in a hurry. The fours were coming on their own after the ball hit the bat. But I guess I was in good flow today. I felt my shot selection was good and I played according to how I'd assessed the wicket. I didn't feel that I rushed things. There was no strategy, I was hitting the ball well, I was middling the ball very nicely and the runs came on their own. My only focus was that I'd play the ball on merit."
He admitted to being nervous, remembering his ODI debut against Australia on October 20, 2010, where he was bowled by Clink McKay off the second ball he faced. "This time I was nervous, that it was again Australia on my Test debut, because I'd scored zero then. But everything went well and I was really happy that I grabbed this opportunity and scored a century... It was a very satisfying feeling."
After his disastrous ODI debut, captain MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina had offered Dhawan solace, which had stayed in his mind. "They told me that the players who've got out on zero for India on debut, they went really big."Dhawan last played for India in June 2011, and was dropped after five ODI appearances. "I worked really hard and changed myself, and became a more mature player. I was waiting for a chance. I did very well on the domestic circuit, and was waiting for a chance to play in international cricket. I guess then that went my way."
Apart from Test and ODI debuts against the Australians, Dhawan's other Australian connection is personal. His wife, Aesha Mukherjee, a British-Asian, currently lives in Melbourne with her two daughters. After returning to the dressing room, Dhawan said: "I called my wife first. I knew she'd been praying for me, so it was an emotional moment for my wife. It's a great moment for me and my family."
Dhawan's nickname amongst his peers is Jaat-jee, which comes from his Jaat heritage. The Jaats come from a largely rural community in North India, concentrated in Haryana and portions of western Uttar Pradesh, surrounding Delhi. Dhawan's distinctive and carefully maintained moustache owes some allegiance to that heritage. As he walked off the field at tea and then at stumps, he twirled his moustache upwards, in a somewhat old-fashioned but instantly-recognisable gesture of bragging-rights ownership. On Saturday, he couldn¹t be denied.
*07.20pm GMT, March 16: The article has been updated after reviewing the laws of the game.
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala