'Big thing that Kings XI showed faith' - Dhawan
"Dus minute baad maine pooncha - team kaun si hain jisne mujhe liya hai?(After about ten minutes I asked which is the team that has bought me)," was the question an ecstatic Rishi Dhawan asked his relatives minutes after he was bought by Kings XI Punjab for a headline-grabbing INR 3 crore ($500,000), making him the second-richest uncapped player in the IPL after Karn Sharma.
Dhawan, the Himachal Pradesh captain and allrounder, was snatched eventually by Kings XI but not before an engrossing tug of war with Rajasthan Royals, who had joined the bidding at the INR 1.2-crore mark. The bidding was actually started by Mumbai Indians, who Dhawan had played for in the last IPL. Mumbai quit early followed by Delhi Daredevils, who also decided to leave when the bid reached INR 70 lakhs. It was at this point Kings XI joined the bidding contest against Sunrisers Hyderabad. But Sunrisers were the third franchise to leave the bid once it had crossed the one crore-mark.
Royals, lead by their mentor Rahul Dravid, remained aggressive and refused to budge and carried the bid past the 2-crore mark. Both franchise officials appeared visibly tense. In contrast, in faraway Amritsar, in the north Indian state of Punjab, Dhawan himself was experiencing pulsating moments.
"It was a moment where I was just telling myself: 'Ek aur bid kar de, ek aur bid kar de (let them make another bid please)'," Dhawan recollects the tense moments. "Things moved so quickly within two minutes it did not allow me to react properly. I only realised later I had been bought for Rs 3 crores. I was just so excited and happy that I was busy celebrating. The phones started coming and as I got busy attending them, I did not even know which was the franchise that had bought me."
Dhawan had gone to play a match near Amritsar and decided to stay back at his grandmother's place to watch the auction. "I knew I was on the auction list so I was ready from the morning," he said. "I was confident about someone bidding for me. But I was nervous initially. Then Mumbai started. Then Mumbai stopped. Then I felt now that Mumbai have stopped, I don't know who else would be interested. Who will buy me? I was expecting Mumbai to bid for a higher price. But fortunately Kings XI had faith in me."
Dhawan is one of the many uncapped India players franchises showed keen interest in, a clear signal that the coaches had paid close attention to the Ranji Trophy performers this season. Even before the Ranji knockouts had started, Dhawan had 49 wickets, a tally no one else could match, making him the top wicket-taker in the tournament, a feat possibly no other Himachal Pradesh bowler has achieved in the past.
"It is a big thing for me that the franchise has shown so much faith in my abilities," Dhawan said. "It shows they have accounted for my performances in the Ranji Trophy and last IPL and Champions League Twenty20 with Mumbai."
Standing about 5'10" tall, Dhawan is a lanky fast bowler who can swing the ball both ways. Speed is not his biggest weapon, but a sharp mind is one of his strengths. In person he is quiet, but people who know him say Dhawan is intelligent. Possibly that was one reason the Himachal selectors showed confidence in giving him the leadership responsibility. It was a big moment for Dhawan, who had started playing cricket when he was 13 and made his first-class debut in 2009.
Incidentally it is not well known that Kings XI was the first franchise where Dhawan made his entry into the IPL. In 2008 the franchise's scouts spotted an 18-year-old Dhawan, who was originally picked in the main squad but was cut adrift as the team management decided to trim the squad.
Dhawan was slightly disappointed but took it in his stride. He eventually was bought by Mumbai before the last IPL. The franchise showed confidence in Dhawan by playing him in both the IPL final as well as the CLT20 final, which Mumbai won.
Interestingly, Dhawan's numbers were not at all impressive: in the IPL he managed a total of 21 runs in four innings and two wickets in five innings last year. In the CLT20, Dhawan didn't get to face a single ball and took just three wickets.
"I know I did not get the wickets but I got to play all the big matches including both the semi-finals and the finals in both the IPL and the CLT20 for Mumbai," Dhawan said. "I was pretty economical I felt and that is what possibly made the other franchises take notice."
Exactly 10 days ago, the Indian selectors had picked a 15-man Rest of India squad for the Irani Cup. Dhawan, the highest-wicket in the Ranji Trophy, was not included. It was a moment Dhawan cannot forget. "I was really surprised," he recollects. "I was expecting the call-up. I was wondering how was this possible. If I did not get picked for ROI then how can I think of getting near to the national team."
Today all those doubts got erased immediately. "I myself have got the confidence, but now I know at least in some people's minds I am better," Dhawan, who will turn 24 in six days, said.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo