June 22, 2013

The contemporary style of Shikhar Dhawan

He's refreshing and fearless, and it will be interesting to see how he negotiates the tough period that inevitably follows a fairytale beginning

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 here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Android on June 27, 2013, 0:04 GMT

    We saw very little frm Dhawan, 1 test inning and 5 one day innings he was very good with d bat. Most importantly he was playing like 50 tests and 100 one day old vintage batsmen...

  • Dummy4 on June 25, 2013, 8:06 GMT

    his smile is amazing .............. it said all about his personality and his confidence. he is walking through purple patch now and let see how he adjust to long run. one attribute of world class player is his longevity....... let see how he could withstand in long run. but for the moment his smile is best of the cricketing world. cheers Dhawan it is treat to watching you.

  • Ashish on June 24, 2013, 14:06 GMT

    If someone told me a year ago that Dhawan and Rohit sharma would be opening for India I would have asked them to get their head examined...

  • rienzie on June 24, 2013, 4:47 GMT

    Love the way he keeps the bat coming from his body and gets full weight of his shots as a result. .... Bye bye gambir and shewag...

  • Dummy4 on June 23, 2013, 20:59 GMT

    @Ali Ahmed : He was born in Delhi not in Punjab !

  • stuart on June 23, 2013, 18:15 GMT

    looks like the next greatest ever batsman story has been hatched. Lets see how he goes after a year or two and we will go from there.Has to play against South Africa on their pitches so lets see how he does there

  • Dummy4 on June 23, 2013, 16:25 GMT

    His cavalier approach to batting reminds me of another aggressive left-hand opening batsman- Saeed Anwar, and possibly a bit of Caribbean greats Gordon Greenidge and Roy Fredericks as well. I'm not comparing Dhawan to any of these greats, just stating that Dhawan belongs to the same 'see-ball-hit-ball' school of batting. I hope he stays true to his style and one day joins these men in the pantheon of cricketing greats.

  • beverly on June 23, 2013, 13:50 GMT

    I really like Shikar Dhawan! Since Viv Richards and Lara, and to a lesser extent Kevin Pietersen, he's the most natural batsman that the world is seeing! He has what it takes to destroy any attack with confidence. When Shikar comes out to bat he means business! He has no fear for any bowler, neither is he too caught up with the fear that he might get out playing good cricket shots. He just goes there and intimidates bowlers. And, as the Great Sunil Gavascar recently said, "Technique is overrated"! Sunny is so right! Shikar's best technique is the one that he is gifted with from birth, as is the case with the Bradman's, Sobers', Viv Richards, Lara's, and KPs - not the one that some English man would want to teach and see manufactured in an institution! Sehwag and Chris Gayle are somewhat similar, but I think that there is a touch of class in Dhawan which would in the long run, make him a little bit more successful than any of these two!

  • Blaen on June 23, 2013, 13:40 GMT

    I have been impressed with Dawan this Champions Trophy. The real test of his pedigree will be the up and coming tour to South Africa. If he makes an impact there, he would have gone a long way to silencing his detractors.

  • Dummy4 on June 23, 2013, 13:39 GMT

    Harsha before reading ur article I was very depressed due to personal issues... but while reading I forgot everything else .. I owe you a good 5 minutes of my life .. great writer you are!!