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IND vs SA: Shikhar Dhawan Continues to Fight And Improve Despite Narrowing Opportunities

Shikhar Dhawan struck a fifty in first ODI. (AP Photo)

Shikhar Dhawan struck a fifty in first ODI. (AP Photo)

Shikhar Dhawan continues to smile and score runs despite the setbacks he has endured on and off the field.

Shikhar Dhawan loves the big stage. He’s been loving it since his U-19 days when he smashed three centuries at the junior one-day World Cup. And ever since, has been continuing to prosper at ICC white-ball tournaments. So it was odd not to see him at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup given the form he had shown in IPL where he finished as Delhi Capitals’ top run-getter.

Even odder was the fact that Delhi Capitals chose to not retain Dhawan despite the top-order batter finishing as their leading run-getter for two straight seasons. His international career is at the crossroads as well. He’s no longer a certainty. He’s been struggling at the domestic level too – 56 runs in five List A matches at the Vijay Hazare Trophy held last month.

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Clearly, it seems he’s past his prime. And it was obvious that questions were raised over his selection in India’s ODI squad for the South Africa tour. And had Rohit Sharma recovered fully from a hamstring issue, in all likeliness, Dhawan would have warmed the benches with KL Rahul, the new designated white-ball vice-captain, unlikely to be demoted in the crowded middle-order.

Leaving the ifs and buts behind, the truth is Dhawan is opening for India, again and scoring runs. In the first ODI against South Africa on a tricky surface in Paarl, the 36-year-old hardly put a foot wrong. Where others struggled, he dazzled.

Driving and flicking came naturally and effortlessly to him as he racked up 79 off 84. 40 of these runs came in boundaries, 12 in doubles and 32 in singles. Clearly, it was a busy knock. Till the time he was driving the Indian ship with ex-captain and statemate Virat Kohli, victory was certain. But once he departed, the innings disintegrated in spectacular fashion culminating into a 31-run defeat.

Even when he’s in the twilight of his career and when India appearances are rare, Dhawan continues to underline his importance especially as the team is undergoing transition.

His experience notwithstanding, Dhawan carries with himself a certain positivity which has an instant effect on the mood. On the field, he’s always smiling. His celebrations aren’t exaggerated. Nor are they contained. They seem to be a perfect representation of his cheerful disposition.

And more often than not, on comeback, Dhawan makes it count, like he did on Wednesday. He may have not scored a hundred but the value of his runs wasn’t less than three figures on a sluggish pitch.

The team combination and his own form means the veteran now only finds himself being picked for just ODI cricket. And the once ubiquitous format has taken a backseat in the past couple of year or so thanks to a combination of pandemic and focus on Tests and T20Is. This not only has limited opportunities for Dhawan but have also given a false impression that he has stopped scoring runs.

Compared to 2019, the ODI World Cup year when India played 28 matches, in the following two years, they played a combined 15 matches. In 2021, Dhawan was part of all six ODIs India played and was their top run-scorer too.

A clear head is the basic requirement in testing times. And Dhawan has mastered the art of remaining focused. “I don’t listen to the media or don’t read newspapers or watch news, that way I don’t take all that information,” Dhawan replied during a post-match interaction when asked how he keeps himself positive.

Dhawan doesn’t get perturbed by failures and setbacks. With age, he has now adopted a more matured way of looking at things. “I have full confidence in myself that what my game is and I have clarity on that and I stay quite calm. And this is part of life, this happens in life, everyone’s life has ups and downs, so it is nothing new and happening for the first time or for the last time in my career or my life, so it is alright, that only makes me stronger,” said Dhawan.

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