Shikhar Dhawan got India's campaign in the ICC Champions Trophy off to a flying start as he smashed his maiden ODI ton to help India register a convincing win over South Africa on Thursday. After his emphatic debut in Tests three months ago, where he scored a century off just 85 balls, Dhawan's maiden ton in 'Blue' was scored in just 80 balls, which included 12 classy boundaries and a six.
Dhawan became a household name after that fantastic debut against Australia in Mohali where he smashed Aussie bowlers all over the park for his 187 and on Thursday the man with the twirling moustache stamped his authority in the 50-over format with a magnificent ton.
But Dhawan's ODI debut which came against Australia in 2010 was a disaster when he was bowled off the second ball. He got more chances in the West Indies following India's 2011 World Cup triumph. He started off well there with a fifty but then fell cheaply in the next three innings and lost his place.
With both Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir out of form and no longer a part of the team, India has got a special talent to replace them. This Delhi-based 27-year-old left-hander played one of the most courageous knocks to give a reason to the Indian to smile after the disappointment with all the spot-fixing and betting stories in the IPL.
While it would be too early to compare Dhawan with Virender Sehwag just yet, the left-hander has already announced his arrival on the big stage. He scored runs at a brisk pace, played shots all around the park and negotiated the pace bowlers easily, something which India have been deprived of in the recent past.
For the last two years Team India has struggled as both Gambhir and Sehwag failed to provide a solid partnership in either the Test or the ODIs, but now Dhawan has played in a courageous fashion as the duo used to play in their prime. Surely, it will require something special from Gautam and Sehwag to make a comeback. Dhawan is still new on the international stage to be compared with the likes of Sehwag, but he is technically sound and has a good temperament - the prerequisites to succeed at the top level.
The best thing about Dhawan's innings was his fearless approach against the South African pacers that includes the likes of Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Ryan McLaren and Rory Kleinveldt. He weathered the initial storm as he scored six runs off the first 15 balls that he faced. Despite taking a nasty blow on the head from a McLaren bouncer that required a bandage for a cut behind the ear, the stylish left-hander did not let it affect his concentration and determination.
During his opening stand with Rohit Sharma there were times when he was away from strike but he showed his maturity and not for a second did he lose his concentration. But when he got his chance he played some lovely shots all around the park. His pull and cover drives were a treat to the eyes. He brought up his fifty in 48 balls and followed the next 50 off just 32.
Dhawan, named Man-of-the-Match, later said that he was happy with his performance but even happier that he helped his team win. "I am happy with the knock I played, but happier because we won a game that was actually getting quite close," he said in a post-match chat.
"I quite enjoy taking pressure but today it was more about waiting for the loose balls. The wicket was good to bat but it was important not to rush into strokes. This strategy worked very well after the first powerplay," Dhawan added.
The Delhi left-hander will now have to keep this form going as India's next league games in the Champions Trophy are against the West Indies and Pakistan in what is considered by many experts as the 'Group of Death.'