There’s a sense of zen about Shikhar Dhawan at the crease these days. Like he’s in some sort of soothing trance, at utmost peace with himself, which was never the case in the early part of his career. The previous year had ended on the sour note of having seen his Test spot more or less being compromised, especially with the selectors going back to Abhinav Mukund as their third opener. And Dhawan has duly made up for it with a dream run in 50-over cricket in 2017. Since the start of the Champions Trophy, he’s averaged 69.71 with 1 century and four fifties in seven innings. That came after a stellar run in the IPL where he finished in the top-five run-getters.
The thing with Dhawan is always that he rarely looks out of touch, especially in ODI cricket. It’s just that there are periods when he just kicks on like he has been of late, and others where he does not. And it’s this skill of not going too hard at all times that he attributes his recent success to, one that he learnt incidentally during his time out of the side.
“When I wasn’t doing well, I knew that if I’m not going to do well I will be out of the side. I knew my place is in danger. I felt I was rushing towards things rather than things coming to me. And once I was out, I was out. I couldn’t do anything about it. Then I went back and started playing domestic cricket and began enjoying it a lot more,” he says two days out from the third ODI in Antigua.
Failing to live up to early promise and then having to forge a comeback has been a theme of Dhawan’s career ever since he debuted for India in 2010 against Australia at Visakhapatnam though. Breaking into the team at the expense of Virender Sehwag though taught him that there are no guarantees in cricket, and that nobody can ever be indispensable in a batting line-up, he reveals.
“I knew Viru bhai and Gautam bhai were at their peak, it was their time. I got a chance, I never thought Viru bhai is going to be dropped from the side or anyone. It is nature. Then it happened with me and I got dropped too,” he says.
Being on the fringes
What didn’t help Dhawan in 2016 was India’s Test-heavy schedule. It meant that despite averaging 55 in ODIs, his lack of Test runs, meant he was suddenly on the periphery of the Indian team rather than at the centre, which he’d become used to. And he reveals being back in the “fringes” was like turning back the clock, and he felt like a “youngster knocking on the door” again.
“You heard that always as kids, about how you need to keep performing and knocking, tak tak tak tak and that’s what I was doing. Before IPL I scored a century and a quickfire 46 and all that stuff. But I couldn’t score in all those one-day games for Delhi. So I was frustrated. I knew I was working hard and things weren’t falling the way I wanted. But from Deodhar Trophy, it started coming my way and then I knew I have performed well for few months and I have to keep performing to come back,” he reveals.
India will be back to playing a lot of Tests again soon with major tours to South Africa later this year and to England next summer. Dhawan had established a set opening partnership with Murali Vijay when India commenced their string of Test series overseas four years ago. He can only hope to be back in the squad when India hit the road again this time around. But he hasn’t given up on his Test career yet and considers himself fit to play in all three formats.
“I know that it’s a race that never ends. I can always come back. If someone has gone ahead of me, I can go ahead of them again. And that’s how my mentality is,” he says.
And he’s quick to remind you that despite all the flak that comes his way with regards to his Test statistics, he’s still not as “bad” as it’s made out to be.
“I haven’t played too many Tests but I still average 38 in that format. And I feel one more big knock and that’ll go up to 40. It’s just that other players did better when I wasn’t doing too well,” he says.