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He's refreshing and fearless, and it will be interesting to see how he negotiates the tough period that inevitably follows a fairytale beginning
June 22, 2013
There is to Shikhar Dhawan's batting an utter bluntness. Every ball is a contest and he will take it on, muscling it past cover or through midwicket. There is, merely to illustrate it better, little of the finesse that so marked out another left-hander who made a dramatic entry into international cricket 17 years ago.
Sourav Ganguly came from the land of Ray and Tagore, of poetry and art-house cinema. He caressed the ball through cover, he square-drove, and even when he danced out to spin, it was with an air of nobility. When he sported a moustache, it belonged to an actor from black-and-white movies. You couldn't twirl it, it was just about there.
Dhawan has bulging biceps and tattoos and he clobbers the ball. He could be a farmer singing a ballad while he ploughs his field; not quite SD Burman, more Daler Mehndi. His cover drive is an assault on the ball. I don't know him very well but he probably throws his head back and laughs. He's very contemporary and he is fantastic to watch.
This is not to suggest he is a slogger. Far from it. He stays leg side of the ball, like Sehwag does, has a pretty tight defence, and knows how to build an innings. He will take chances - his generation does - but clearly he now knows what works for him. And like Sehwag he seems to keep his game simple.
The parallels don't end there. He fancies the upper cut, and as we saw against Sri Lanka in the semi-final, if there is a fielder on the third-man boundary, so be it. And I especially like the fact that he is never too far away from a smile, as Junaid Khan discovered when he followed through a little too close after beating him with a really good ball. Dhawan shrugged his shoulders and smiled through the helmet as if to say, "You won that, now let's move on."
I am sure there is a fair bit of steel beneath that exterior, though. There is ambition. When he wasn't selected, he asked the selectors why. But his path is laced with adventure. For far too long he played brisk, short innings; for years he displayed promise but nothing more substantial, and I often wondered if he would let himself become the player he could have been. I don't know how many people knew how good he could be, but everyone knew he could be better. Maybe there was self-doubt, maybe the fear that the future he wanted grew distant and the present didn't feel right, maybe he just needed an anchor in life.
Clearly something has clicked into place, for the ball seems to search out the middle of his bat. It is a great phase but one that is inevitably accompanied by greater scrutiny. Already coaches around the world will be studying him; teams not playing on the day in competitions like this will be discussing theories on how to bowl to him. You saw Lasith Malinga looking to bowl him a bouncer on leg stump, or even further down. When bowled outside off, he can slash hard or play the upper cut, but when on leg stump it seems to cramp him for space. A couple of times he threw bat at ball almost like he was attempting a heave. There will be more, because bowlers are sharp thinkers; they have to be to survive. Currently he is dictating terms but soon he will have to react to their wiles. It is always like that; years two and three are the discovery years.
There is one thing in his favour, though. He doesn't seem to have trouble with pace and bounce in spite of having a ball clatter onto his helmet against South Africa. It is something that will be tested, and very quickly I would imagine, and in the course of time he must find his own way around it. For now, though, he is great fun to watch, refreshing and fearless, with shots on the off side and on, the cut and the pull and the lofted drive to spin. It is a measure of the importance he has already attained that, ahead of the final, he will be the most discussed Indian player in the England camp.
And Ganguly will be watching, thinking doubtlessly about another English summer when bats were thinner, balls were gently placed through cover and tattoos weren't style statements.
Harsha Bhogle is a television presenter, writer, and a commentator on IPL and other cricket. His Twitter feed is hereFeeds: Harsha Bhogle
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