Till a couple of weeks back, Shikhar Dhawan had very few people on his side. Stuck in a quagmire, he was reaching out to deliveries that ought to have been left alone and in the bargain, was finding the slips with alarming regularity. Dhawan, whose heroics had guided the team to the Champions Trophy 18 months ago was a shadow of his former self and his own worst enemy.
It’s a lonely world without friends. It’s an even lonelier world when one day you are heralded as the goose that lays the golden eggs and the next day, all daggers are drawn at you, questioning your commitment and place in the team. While it seemed as if the whole world had turned their backs on him, the team management hadn’t. MS Dhoni, Duncan Fletcher and Ravi Shastri, all of them backed him to the hilt. We have invested in this group of guys for the last two years Dhoni said, backing them is the only option. Dhawan just needed to spend time at the crease and stand his ground until he realised that he belonged there. That’s what bad form does to you – makes you feel as if you don’t belong, that you’re an impostor who will soon be found out, someone who has no business being on the field.
Shikhar Dhawan burst on to the scene with a smoldering 187 on his test debut against Australia. His twirling mustache and rat tail hairstyle promptly started trending. Resembling a wrestler more than a cricketer, you didn’t want to mess with him. But things looked ominous for him before the start of the World Cup. Dhawan the dasher had gone missing and was replaced by a Dhawan who had gone into a shell and was giving the slips catching practice. The 2013 Champions Trophy in which he struck a purple patch and amassed 363 runs, earning the Man-of-Series award, seemed like a lifetime ago.
There goes Dhawan we said, throwing it all away. He shouldn’t have been picked in the World Cup Squad. He is a sitting duck and without a solid start, the chances of victory will be as probable as a Congress triumph in the Indian elections. His obvious weakness against the swinging ball on pitches outside the sub-continent had wicket-keepers and slips rubbing their hands in anticipation whenever he took his guard. And sadly for him, he didn’t disappoint them. Of all the things that come at a premium in modern cricket, patience is definitely not one of them. And his legion of fans had just about had it with his indifferent form.
When India took on Pakistan at the Adelaide Oval on February 15th, a day after Valentine’s Day, there was no love lost between the countries. And Shikhar Dhawan wasn’t just battling nerves, he was also battling indifferent form and self-doubt, two perpetrators that can lose you a match even before a ball is bowled. He began sedately, rediscovering what it felt like to spend time in the middle. Along with Virat Kohli, who went onto score a century, the duo added 129 runs for the second wicket. It wasn’t a Dhawanesque innings when he began playing but slowly, the shots began to come.
When he reached his 50 and lifted his bat to acknowledge the crowd, Dhawan must have felt a few kilograms lighter. Looking good to score a century, he was stopped in his tracks when Virat Kohli called for a single and sent him back. Caught short of his ground, the 73 runs he scored must have been worth their weight in gold for him. That the team went onto win was the icing on the cake.
And that was just the preview.
When India took on South Africa, even an over optimistic bookie would have crossed his fingers and put his money on India. Acknowledged as one of the favourites, South Africa has the pace battery of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel to steamroll through sides and their top batsmen answer to names like Faff Du Plessis, Hashim Amla, AB Di Villiers and JP Duminy.
India won the toss and elected to bat. They were playing at the Melbourne Cricket Ground but it felt like they were playing at home, with over 80,000 fans rooting for them. Shikhar Dhawan took off from where he left at Adelaide. The flat six off Dale Steyn over mid on signaled his intent. See Shikhar Dhawan in his element and you see a hint of mischief. When he is sent back after a wrong call for a run by his partner, he laughs it off. He cuts and drives on the offside with impunity, finding gaps with ridiculous ease. When he reached his century, he stood with his feet apart and outstretched arms, the bat in his left hand and a wide grin plastered on his face. It was a long awaited sight. Where was he all this time you wondered? History was a factor in both matches – India had never lost to Pakistan in a World Cup and the record stayed. India had never beat South Africa in a World Cup and the jinx was broken.
How India’s World Cup campaign progresses is anyone’s guess. But for now, Shikhar Dhawan will be a very relieved man. He’s rediscovered his mojo and looks good for a few more big innings. For someone who waited till he was 28 to cement his place in the team, he will always seem to be making up for lost time. An interesting anecdote that is doing the rounds is how he met his wife Ayesha Mukherjee, an amateur boxer 12 years his senior. He found her on Harbhajan Singh’s friend list on facebook and sent her a friend request. At some point, the friend request turned into something more. He credits her for being a calming effect in his life.
In the last few months when his form had deserted him and finding runs seemed like looking for an oasis in a desert, Shikhar Dhawan must have felt like one of the loneliest men in the world. The change in fortunes since the start of the World Cup has brought the smile back on his face as well as on the faces of his legion of fans.
And guess what.
Now everyone wants to be friends with Shikhar Dhawan again.