Wiser, stronger Shikhar Dhawan returns to the Caribbean

Jamie Alter | Updated: June 28, 2013, 11:58 AM IST
Wiser, stronger Shikhar Dhawan returns to the Caribbean

Both refreshing and fearless in equal dollops, Shikhar Dhawan is riding a high. The 27-year-old batsman has adjudged Player of the Series in the ICC Champions Trophy, scoring the most runs for any player in the tournament and helping India clinch the title. Since his return to the ODI side in England and Wales, Dhawan has reeled off scores of 114, 102*, 48, 68 and 31. Every innings contributed to victory.

The doubts over Dhawan's efficiency at the international level have been, momentarily put in the cold storage after he finished the leading run-getter with 363 from five matches, including consecutive hundreds and one half-century, at a staggering average of 90.75 and strike-rate of 101.39. If his 94-ball 114 in the tournament opener was sublime - his cutting and pulling of South Africa's quicks the hallmark - then his unbeaten 102 in a successful chase against West Indies at The Oval was superbly paced. This was high-class batting, each shot dripping with confidence, coated in assuredness.

All tournament, Dhawan approached his batting with minimum fuss. Whatever he did - scampering singles, deftly guiding or sweeping, driving with panache and purpose, crunching the ball square, uppercutting sixes - was done with a joy that could mark him out as a successful one-day batsman. Almost all his moves have produced gold.

What is most striking about Dhawan 2.0 is the manner in which he essays the horizontal bat shots. He is currently playing the cut and pull shots with a crispness and confidence seldom seen by young Indian batsman in overseas conditions. Its a mixture of Marcus Trescothick and Herschelle Gibbs: the footwork and timing are reminiscent of the former England opener, himself a left-hander, and the authority and power similar to Gibbs. This marks Dhawan out as a crucial figure for the India at the 2015 World Cup, to be played in Australia and New Zealand.

He backed himself against the fast bowlers and did not duck when the ball was dug in short. Instead, he peppered the square boundaries with superb cuts and pulls. He met short and short-of-length deliveries with such precise footwork and such immaculate timing, repeatedly. Against South Africa, he unleashed a rasping pull off Ryan McLaren; he charged Lonwabo Tsotsobe and hammered him over extra cover for six; Rory Kleinveldt was dispatched with similar ferocity. On his ODI comeback, nothing appeared to fluster Dhawan. He was revelling in his return.

His celebrations on reaching hundreds have been as smooth as his batting - the spread-eagled pose, the beaming smile, the twirl of the moustache. Joy of delivering on the big stage, yes, but nothing overbearing or over-the-top. Not for Dhawan is a springboard leap, a punch of the air, a pumped-up wave of the bat or chaste Hindi gaalis. He appears grounded in reality, aware that failure lurks around the corner. He wants to stake his claim with loads of runs, and knows that he is not a permanent figure in the side. Just yet.

This golden form in the tournament was an extension of the form Dhawan has been in this year. On Test debut, he smashed the quickest century by a batsman in his first innings. Then he injured himself in the same match and missed a chunk of the IPL. Once fit, he top-scored for Sunrisers Hyderabad with 311 at 38.87 to force his selection for the Champions Trophy, his first ODI appearance since July 2011 in the West Indies. Dhawan has scored more runs in five innings than Virender Sehwag did in 11 during the whole of 2012.

Tougher times await Dhawan. Inevitably, the honeymoon period ends. It will in Dhawan's case, at some point. For now, he will return to the region where he first tasted ODI success, albeit for just one match. Against West Indies at Port of Spain on June 6, 2011 Dhawan battled his way to 51 before losing the plot with a filthy slog. He made 3, 4 and 11 in the rest of the series and was dropped. Now, back in ODI colours, he looks a different batsman. A batsman with tremendous promise. Calmer, wiser and better for it.

The next few months in Dhawan's career could be quite something. Don't miss it.

First Published: June 28, 2013, 11:58 AM IST

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