New Zealand v India, 1st Test, Auckland, 4th day February 10, 2014

Dhawan finally curbs aggressive instinct

Shikhar Dhawan's impatience in Tests has been his major shortcoming, but his fighting century in Auckland proved that he may yet have it in him to cut it at the longest format

On the final afternoon of the first Test at Eden Park, a vocal group of Indian fans started shouting, imploring Shikhar Dhawan to twirl his moustache.

Dhawan had come up to the players' lounge after falling for 115 to a brute from Neil Wagner. Although he had become only the fourth Indian opener to have made a hundred in the fourth innings of a Test, his team eventually slipped from a strong position to lose the contest. Many players would just have brooded over the dismissal and would not have heeded to the fans. But Dhawan instantly obliged the fans with what they wanted.

We have come to expect that ready, carefree style from Dhawan. That is the way he carries himself, that is the way he bats. He has developed too much self-belief to let reputations or situations bother him too much.

You need to have self-belief to survive so long in first-class cricket when others don't have enough faith in you to provide you the international call-up. When it finally comes, after more than eight years of domestic grind, your self-belief has to border on the ridiculous for you to crack 187 off 174 on your Test debut.

But just self-belief won't do in international cricket. The world saw the talent Dhawan had, and that he had the confidence to back it. But did he have the other abilities that is critical to build on a heady debut? Did he have the willingness to abandon his aggression when the situation demanded patience? Could he pay some respect to bowlers when needed? Could he tighten up his game to play long innings as a Test opener?

A highest of 29 in two Tests in South Africa on his first away tour did not suggest that. A third-ball duck in the first innings in Auckland only added to the doubts. He was too eager to pull, pushed with hard hands, was neither forward nor back and couldn't adjust his approach. He had only one gear, and the questions were understandably piling up.

Dhawan went a long way in answering them with a fourth-innings century. Yes, the Eden Park pitch hadn't deteriorated much, and he was dropped fifth ball. But that should not take away anything from the significance of his feat. That only three other Indian openers before him have achieved this landmark before him goes to show the enormity of his effort.

India know now that Dhawan can alter his game for long periods at the highest level. That is a very satisfying thing to find out about your Test opener. At Eden Park, Dhawan did all that does not come naturally to him. He resisted the temptation to pull, choosing to duck instead. He resisted the temptation to cut with since catchers were posted behind point, choosing to leave the deliveries alone instead. And he did this for more than five hours.

He showed he was skilled enough to still score at a decent rate. He rode the bounce and guided and nudged behind point rather than slashing wildly. He played the drive and the clip when he had the length and the reach. And when he fell, it was to a special delivery rather than an injudicious shot.

It is a tricky balance to achieve for aggressive players such as Dhawan. You don't want to be too reckless, but you don't want to let go of too many scoring opportunities as well. You can feel there is no point standing out there for 100 deliveries and falling for 35 when you know you can go after the bowling and score more in much lesser time. But fail that, and you also know the questions will pile up further.

MS Dhoni felt Dhawan had attained that balance without over-analysing and getting too hard on himself after being left out for the fourth ODI. "What was important was his approach," Dhoni said. "Because at times, you start thinking too much. That was the reason we gave him rest in that particular ODI. We wanted him to have a clear mind. Before that game, he got 35-40 odd runs [28] and it is always better if you have scored runs and then you give the individual a bit of a rest to think. If you have not scored, then you tend to be in a negative frame of mind. Maybe that rest helped him to some extent.

"In the second innings he was very calm and composed, batted the way it was needed, scored patiently. That was the reason he got a big hundred, and hopefully, it will really boost up his confidence and help him keep going and not let him think in the negative direction."

The doubts from outside have receded, at least for the time being. Much tougher tours, starting with the one in England, lie in wait. But Auckland has suggested Dhawan can cut it at Test level.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Naresh on February 14, 2014, 8:29 GMT

    There were so many SL and Pak fans calling DHAWAN a flat track bully. Well he scored a 100 is on 71n.o in NZ. HARDLY A FLAT TRACK BULLY!!!! He has recognized which shots he gets out to - only a matter of adjusting.

  • raj on February 13, 2014, 16:34 GMT

    @ Shoaib Khan on (February 11, 2014, 0:19 GMT) - How would you explain India's last series win in NZ. Also the previous series draw in SA (prior to last SA series)??? Maybe it was the WC win that put Dhoni and India into holiday mode. Has anyone noticed how the members of the WC winning team suddenly disappeared off the radar - I think the WC is so cherished in India that the winning players found it hard to get re-motivated??? Sehwag, Gambhir, Raina, Yuvraj, Harbhajan & Munaf to name a few - All young enough but slipping off the radar fast!

  • raj on February 13, 2014, 16:21 GMT

    I, for one, always maintained that Dhawan should be persisted with. Firstly, he is a free scoring batsman. Secondly, though he was getting out cheaply, he never looked all at sea - He was just not executing shots properly. Even in NZ he has looked capable. But India desperately need to add another pace bowler to the side - Perhaps they should rest either Rohit or Vijay???

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2014, 14:31 GMT

    Friends lets not be so critical about Dhawan he was out form , admit had a reprieve but to his credit he hung around . But the problem is Indian team is not clicking as a unit . Lets hope for India's sake he does well in 2nd test as well.

    None from batting line up stuck around .India could have won this one .Dhoni and Jadeja need to prove that they can score in test matches. But actually they don't need to prove till Srinivasan is there . All losses will be forgotten and India shall throng to see IPL

  • Nero on February 12, 2014, 16:55 GMT

    Look at australia what their Smith is doing after 97-4 making a double hundred pertnership. He is their no.6 . Everybody know what Clarke at no.5 does anyday . SA's AB devilliers win the losing match at no.5 . Du plesis saves the losing match . You know what Matt prior did in gone days. Here in Nz McCullum and Anderson are making big hundred partnerships. When was the last time india's lower middle order led by Dhoni made such a partnership in abroad condition. They do the opposite of De villiers-Duplesis. They lose the winning match made by top order. Stop criticizing openers . If they eat the new ball and make 40 runs ,that is enough what Vijay is doing. But culprit is the middle order for india. India have the worst lower middle order in the world in current time. What is Dhoni's overseas average since 2011 or overall average if you substract that 224. Ashwin is ahead of him. He is never scoring a century but how many half he had made in these overseas. Does he have the right to criticise top order. How can he drop the underperformers when himself is poor than them.

  • Arul on February 11, 2014, 12:05 GMT

    Yes of-course because he has scored more then 40 after 8 innings. Why dont people be patient and let the player play his game without overrating or put pressure on him.

  • Ajinkya on February 11, 2014, 5:36 GMT

    There is a sudden decline in Team India's performance since Fletcher took over. We lost a home Test series versus England in 2012, after a gap of 8 years under DF. His only success away is Champions Trophy win in June 2013. Under Gary, there were instances such as Napier Test vs NZ, Ahmedabad Test vs NZ, Mohali Test vs Australia, Chennai Test vs England where the team fought back from tense situations to save or win the Tests thanks to brilliant efforts from Gambhir, Harbhajan (fighting 100), Laxman-Ishant 9th wicket partnership & Sehwag-Sachin's brilliance in 4th innings respectively. Now, we lose the matches from winning positions, like the one in Auckland.The meek surrender is seen far too often. Batsmen continue to flirt with the balls way outside off-stump, don't show enough patience after successive dot balls. The bowling woes are much bigger. We struggle to pick 20 opposition wickets which is must in winning a Test.That is not what we expect from our Team India!!!!

  • Dummy4 on February 11, 2014, 4:17 GMT

    BCCI should:1) Agree to snickometer & audio for catches and edges for LBWs-Rahane would have been saved & maybe Vijay 2) Agree to review for no balls -But Dhoni's was not given by 3rd umpire-partial umpire. Normally they use so many views for catches and boundaries. The3rd umpire did not use all views available!3) No DRS for LBWs-BCCI suspects balltracking technology.I agree as wickets change constantly so unpredictable wrt path of ball.4) Benefit of doubt should be given to batsman which is not the case now.5) Use for as required cases by TV umpire. Want to get close to 100% correct decisions. Too many errors occurring. Aucklkand test probably worst in recent times. Like what the great West Indies suffered at the hands of NZ umpires in the 80s and lost the series. Here there were neutral but incompetent umpires!!!.They may have been biased against India because it is wanting more power.

  • VENKATESA on February 11, 2014, 3:40 GMT

    @HARYSH DASARI ..,the point I am trying to make is not about whether Dhoni is a great player or a great captain.. The bottomline is he doesn't deserve his place in the test 11 either as a test batsman ( with his technical frailties outside off against pace ) or as a non-performing captain either ( because his defensive & unimaginative captaincy has cost India on more than one occassion..,the most recent being the test series against SA ).. And i dont think its wrong as an Indian cricket fan to expect the Captain to lead from the front & guts it out when the situation is tough & not throw his wicket away like a tailender by poking at deliveries outside off..,it may fetch him streaky boundaries in ODIs but in tests with so many catching fielders in the slips..,his batting technique is a perfect recipe for disaster..!! And he doesn't seem to learn from his mistakes either..!! In my opinion he should play in ODIs only & that too only as a player.. This would help INDIAN CRICKET..

  • Flattrack on February 11, 2014, 2:34 GMT

    India is one of the poorest sides playing international cricket today. Just proves the ranking system is way out of kilter with reality. Only Pujara is test quality. One innings from Dhawan does not make him a test standard batsman. The bowling is perhaps the weakest in international cricket.

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