It was only three innings ago that Shikhar Dhawan had put to rest the doubts about his form with a thrilling century against Australia in Mohali. But in the three months between then and now, Mohali and Oval, Dhawan was talked up as man rolling down the slope to perdition.
Maybe it was because he didn’t set the IPL stage ablaze and the television cameras didn’t sport him twirl his moustache or slap his thighs often enough. So he landed in England with the extra baggage of doubts and apprehensions.
Forgotten thus was his unshakable bond with the biggest stage in this format, the World Cup and the Champions Trophy. After all, he was India’s highest run-getter in the last two editions of the Champions Trophy held in these shores. Today, after his 117 at Oval, Dhawan’s average leaped from 66.50 to 82 in England.
The reason Dhawan doesn’t have an aura of solidity is the fans proneness to mix up his long-form travails in England with his limited-over mastery. It has also to do with his batting style.
At times, Dhawan looks loose and shaky, out-of-depth and out-of-place. His stroke-making isn’t clean, it is a mangled mess of whirring limbs. Like when he was cut open by a Pat Cummins scorcher in the fifth over. He was not just beaten but he was made to resemble a nervous wreck. Cummins just smirked, Dhawan smiled back. A ripe moment for doubters to mutter: “Oh didn’t I tell you”.
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Dhawan has been at this juncture many a time. And how many times has he spectacularly bounced back. As he did after Cummins beat him. Two balls later, he stroked the Aussie pacer through covers, hardly bothering to move his feet, all fluid bat-swing and timing, entirely detached to the hopeless batsman he had seemed a few seconds ago. Someone in the crowd then flashed a banner: “Gabbar is back!”.
But watching Dhawan is like being on an emotional roller coaster. Next over, he tried to hook a Cummins bouncer, which brushed his elbow to the keeper, making him look inept again. The television analysts scathingly harped on his static backfoot and those leaden wrists.
These glitches, besides his much storied outside the off-stump indiscretion, have existed in his batting from the start of his career. But it’s a testament to his strength of will and desire to prosper at the grandest stage that he has learnt to find the runs despite these weaknesses. Like he once admitted: “I am not the most perfect batsman, but if I keep thinking only of my weaknesses, I wouldn’t have played even Ranji Trophy.”
His greatest gift, thus, is his unflappable self-belief, and the faith he has in his percentage strokes, like those slashy cuts and the feisty square-cut. The latter stroke also is an indicator of his form. Today he played a little beauty of a square-cut in the eighth-over off the match. It was bowled by Nathan Coulter-Nile. It was marginally wide and short, and Dhawan just smeared it behind point, without even bothering to shuffle his back-foot across.
Next over of the strapping Western Australian, he copped a blow on the thumb, requiring prolonged treatment from the physio. It was evident that he was in pain. You could see him take the bottom hand off several shots and mis-timing it. But then, he isn’t the one to shirk from physical pain. Some three years ago, after scoring a defiant 84 against the West Indies in North Sound, he talked up the demands of his trade: “Yeh sabse mushkil kaam hain.”
Today he showed courage and also restraint. He temporarily curbed his aggressive strokes like the sashay-down-the-wicket whack and more inclined to rotate the strike through an assortment of nudges and pushes.
In fact, his strike-rotation stroke percentage was 49, the highest in any of his 17 hundreds. There was a high percentage of singles and twos (53 off 117 runs), though he didn’t spare the loose balls (16 boundaries) either.
The Australians, though, continued harassing him with the short ball–one took his wrists and whizzed over the ‘keeper to the fence. Dhawan was troubled, but as he often says, he didn’t let those troubles stew in his mind. Rather, he showed and guts and will power. He also enhanced his reputation of delivering on the big stage.