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March 11, 2014
Shikhar Dhawan in South Africa: four Test innings, 76 runs, a highest of 29. Dhawan in New Zealand: four innings, 215 runs, a century that nearly won India a lost match and a 98 that put them in a winning position. Dhawan believes the two performances are related to each other. The "setback" in South Africa, he has told ESPNcricinfo, made him introspect and work further on his batting, which bore results in New Zealand.
"From South Africa, when I didn't score that much, I analysed my game that as a batsman, or as an opener, what shots I have to play at the start or what shots I shouldn't play," Dhawan said. "Every pitch is different. We were playing in India a lot that time [just before going to South Africa]. Then when I went there, it was a setback. I wouldn't say a failure, but the setback helped me a lot to become a more mature player.
"Then I realised, 'Okay on these kinds of tracks I need to play these kind of shots. And I have to leave bouncers [alone] at the start because the bounce is different, and it is hard to keep the ball down.' That's what I did and brought those things into my practice. When I went to New Zealand that practice became my instinct, and that's how I scored big runs there."
It has now been a year since Dhawan's comeback into the Indian team resulted in a sensational debut-Test century. A late bloomer, the 28-year-old Dhawan has scored seven international centuries in this period. Only his friend and now team-mate Virat Kohli has scored more hundreds over the last 12 months. Time has simply flown for Dhawan.
"One year is over already," Dhawan said. "It went so quickly. Good time always flies really fast. I celebrated on my own, the first anniversary with the Indian team. It's a great feeling. We won so many series, and of course we saw a bit of down time too. But that's how it is. You see ups and downs both. It is a beautiful journey. I am happy that I have been contributing to my side. I want to keep doing that, I want to keep improving as a batsman, and keep winning matches and series for my side.
"I had a bit of a lean patch too. That lean patch made me stronger, and made me realise the areas I had to improve on. Made me a more mature player. That's the best thing. It is a beautiful thing that I scored a lot of centuries and half-centuries. That's every batsman's dream: to score a lot of centuries and become the main man for the team."
Dhawan had to wait in the wings because two other Delhi batsmen formed one of India's most prolific opening partnerships of all time. He is philosophical about that phase, and also knows there can be no room for complacency. "I scored seven centuries in domestic cricket when I came to the Test side," Dhawan said. "I always believed it is a race that never ends. When Gautam bhai [Gambhir] and Viru bhai [Sehwag] were playing, I was playing in Ranji. I always used to believe this race never ends. I should just keep performing well, and then my time will come. Then god blessed me with [a place in the] Indian team. I just focus on my game, whatever is in my hand - my hard work, my dedication, my commitment to my team - that's all I do. And keep learning day by day."
Not just at the top of the order, there has been a change of the batting guard through the whole Indian batting line-up. Dhawan is pleased with how the transition has gone ahead. "Every individual takes that responsibility," Dhawan said. "To be the main man. To take the responsibility to win the match for the team. We are youngsters, we are still learning a lot of cricket.
"It doesn't happen overnight. You have to spend time out there and play a lot of matches to get experience. We have been doing well as a young unit. We won a lot of series, we lost a few too, but I personally feel we are doing really well. Out of these young players, there are going to be lots of future legends."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Plays of the day from the fifth ODI in Ranchi
Plays of the day from the fourth ODI between India and Sri Lanka in Kolkata