Shikhar Dhawan…well, when we look at Indian batting greats, his name may not feature at the top but I believe, Dhawan should be an inspiration to a lot of young upcoming players just like Virat Kohli is.
There is a famous quote that goes ‘I did the best I could with what I had’; Dhawan epitomises this and that’s why he can be a more sensible choice as a role model for young players than Kohli or Tendulkar.
When Dhawan was in the Delhi Ranji team at the start of his first-class career, his colleagues did not regard him as someone who had what it takes to play for India.
Tendulkar was a Test prospect at the age of 14 and I remember Lalchand Rajput, who was coaching the India U19 team when Kohli was playing at that level, telling me that he would be the next big thing after Tendulkar. Unlike Dhawan, these were batsmen whose promise was obvious.
In the early days of a career, we can never see what’s inside a player’s head, the nature of that person, which in sports is called ‘temperament’. It’s revealed slowly over a period of time. It’s in this aspect that Dhawan has really impressed me over the years. I never compared his batting performance to Kohli or Rohit Sharma; I always looked at Dhawan as the guy who was making the most of what he had.
To start with, Dhawan had at least three major weaknesses as a batsman that were likely to get exposed against top class bowling; these, at various stages of his career were: an inability to deal with the ball coming back into him; driving hard on the up without getting to the pitch of the ball, discomfort against the short ball into the ribs.
What’s more, he is an opener, and an opener cannot get away with too many holes in batting technique, especially when it comes to Tests, like a number 5 or 6 can. Yet Dhawan has played 34 Tests averaging a very decent 40, debuting with that magnificent hundred against Australia at Mohali.
But then his debut was on an Indian pitch where he could plant his front foot down and hit those booming drives against fast bowlers.
Come the South Africa tour a few months later and my antenna was up. He struggled on that trip, to say the least. The short ball was his nemesis. I remember trying to analyse one of his dismissals on a TV show and my expert colleague kept smiling; when I finished, he just said “Sorry Sanjay, flat track bully, that’s what he is”
After this, there was the New Zealand tour, for Dhawan, another tough assignment. But that series gave me a good glimpse into his ‘nature’ (temperament).
He got a 115 and a 98 in the 4 innings of that series. What he did really very well there was control his urge to play those ‘hard hand’ drives and reach out to deliveries outside the off stump. He also found a way to negotiate the short ball with humility—humility being the key word.
That was the phase of 2013/2014 when India was touring a lot, so the next stop was England and Dhawan struggled again, against some quality bowling in those conditions.
He got dropped during the next overseas series vs Australia. He made a superb 173 on his comeback in a Test against Bangladesh, but has now lost his place again and a cloud hangs over his Test career.
Now we all have a better understanding of Dhawan the batsman, because after having watched him in all formats, in all conditions, for 10 years, Dhawan is really ‘one who made the best he could, with what he had’.
His inability to succeed in places like England , SA and Australia in Tests was not because he was playing badly or wasn’t applying himself enough. Those were simply demands beyond his reach.
In fact, on the last trip to England in 2018, my heart went out to him, seeing how he kept backing himself to do well in the limited chances he got ,when all he had to look back at were failures. Yet there was no sign of him being tentative—or the other thing that can happen to players who are not able to perform—a miserable state of mind, an attempt to avoid the challenge altogether. I never saw that with Dhawan. I have never in fact seen Dhawan going out to bat and not backing himself.
England was a struggle for him in Tests but that’s where he forged his great partnership at the top with Sharma in 50 overs cricket at the 2013 Champions Trophy, starting off with 2 consecutive hundreds.
One of his best 50 overs innings was in Melbourne in Australia in the 2015 World Cup game versus SA, a brilliant 137 batting first.
I have maintained for a while now that Dhawan’s strongest format is 50 overs cricket, but this IPL, the brilliant mind of Dhawan showed its class again as he got back-to-back 100s!
For someone who had a below par T20 strike rate, especially in the company of David Warner at SRH, a lot of us were skeptical about his worth as a T20 batsman. But the moment he changed his intent for Delhi Capitals, his T20 career has taken a magical turn. His intent in Tests versus his intent in white ball cricket achieve different results for Dhawan, but his temperament never suffers.