Rohit Sharma summed up Shikhar Dhawan's confidence in a line, when asked about their double-century opening stand against Pakistan on Sunday. "First five overs we talk about cricket, discuss what we need to do, where we take singles and which fielders we can out-do under pressure. After that, it's better to leave Dhawan alone."
Dhawan, in fact, has been doing most things alone on tour so far.
On the only day India have trained at the Asia Cup - a day prior to their match against Hong Kong - ice buckets were arranged for all the batsmen to cool off after 15-minute batting stints. Dhawan, who was first in at the nets, was in a different world, still going strong 25 minutes into the session - first against pace, then against spin and finally against their new left-arm throwdown specialist from Sri Lanka.
After his first batting session was over, he went over to an open net and kept asking Shahbaz Nadeem, who was with the Indian team for five days, to keep spinning the ball back in from the rough. A special mat had been put somewhere close to a length. Dhawan swept continuously. This lasted 15 minutes, before he finally walked out of the net, amused at the ice treatment his team-mates were receiving. Later, a member of the support staff joked at how Gabbar didn't need ice treatment. Why? 'Dilli se hai, boss. 45 degrees is normal. Melbourne mein bhi.' ('He's from Delhi where 45 degress is normal, as it is in Melbourne [where his wife and kids live]')
Dhawan wasn't done yet. Even as the others took 10-minute hits before walking off, Dhawan marched towards a separate net where Sanjay Bangar, the batting coach, and throwdown expert Raghu greeted him for a third session, hurling short-pitched deliveries. The instructions were to alternate between a pull in front of square and swaying out of the way depending on the line of the deliveries. In all, it was an intense workout in the heat to prepare for potentially four games in six days. He was roaring with the confidence that said 'I'm ready, come and get me.'
It seemed as if there was a remarkable difference in mindset and body language to the diffident Dhawan who had kept prodding and poking to the slips in the Test matches in England. It's a remarkable Dhawan trait, to be able to put behind his failures as fast as it takes to guzzle a litre of water in the UAE heat. Just three days prior to his first nets session in Dubai, he'd left England with more questions than answers. Doubts lingered if he'd done enough to be India's first-choice opener in Australia. Mind you, the home Tests in West Indies weren't even in consideration because it was a given he'd score at home. Numbers back the popular perception that Dhawan is a subcontinent specialist.
Dhawan's larger issue in red-ball cricket is his tendency to stay inside the line of the ball, in trying to open up the off side. This has resulted in heaps of runs in the subcontinent, on tracks where there's no lateral movement. On green tracks, however, he's been found wanting. This approach may cast apprehension in a few batsmen but not Dhawan.
On tracks where there has been true bounce - invariably the case in ODIs - he's been more than happy to play without the fear of nicking behind. In any case, India have had three low-pressure chases in four matches so far at the Asia Cup, where he's dominated right from the outset. He's latched onto anything on a good length, pounced on the short deliveries, played the hook and pull, and against spin, there has been intent whenever he's looked to sweep. This has resulted in scores of 127, 40, 46 and 114.
Earlier this year in South Africa, he made 305 runs courtesy two half-centuries and a hundred in the ODIs. These runs came at a strike rate of 110.5. It superbly complemented Virat Kohli, who was by far the best batsman on tour. It was in stark contrast to Dhawan's Tests during that tour, where he had scored 16 apiece in Cape Town and was left out in favour of KL Rahul for the Centurion Test. That didn't, however, have any impact on his ODI form, a testament to his mental make-up.
Four years ago too, he walked into the 2015 World Cup searching for his off stump and for answers against late swing. The slips were always in with a chance. Poor form had deserted him in the Tests before he made way for a nervy debutant in Rahul. In the tri-series with England that followed, Dhawan failed to hit top gear. A week's break in Melbourne later, the batsman who arrived at the World Cup was a different version of the man whose confidence appeared to have been at its lowest barely a week ago.
In just his second innings at the tournament, his century set up a stunning win over South Africa. He eventually finished the tournament with 412 runs in eight innings at an average of 51.50 and strike rate of 91.80. His remarkable consistency at the Asia Cup mirrors that World Cup form, and with a full series against West Indies at home before they travel to Australia and New Zealand, India would hope for this confidence resonates across formats.
His ODI career began with a first-ball duck eight years ago against Australia in Visakhapatnam, but since becoming a regular at the Champions Trophy in 2013, he's been one of the first few names on the team sheet, the stifling competition notwithstanding. His batting average of 47.13 and strike rate of 94.38 across 108 innings have established him as one of the best ODI openers in the country along with Rohit Sharma; their 210-run opening stand against Pakistan was the highest for India in chase and was also the fourth highest overall.
For all his Test struggles, Dhawan's Sehwag-like traits - whistling while batting and always having a laugh to spare, even in the tightest of situations - may give you an impression of him being carefree. But that's just who Dhawan is, something India have learnt to embrace. They'd just hope now that the purple patch extends into the World Cup year.