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Camera, Action, Lights, Shadows, Shikhar Dhawan

by Gaurav Sethi

 From soaking in the spotlight to shying away from it, Dhawan’s batting continues to reinvent, often in the course of an innings.

Shikhar Dhawan has time. On his hands, off his bat, on his thigh, with that smile, with the victory sign, for the camera. He’s not going anywhere. Yet he seems to be, both a man in a hurry, and one who is not going anywhere. 

Shikhar Dhawan is not going to the World T20. He doesn’t have to, he’s attending his own party. And has been for some time. He seems happy to be there. 

Though of course, he’d be even happier to be at the ICC event. Any cricketer would; but Dhawan is far from any cricketer. 

***

Ajinkya Rahane sits next to Dhawan in the Delhi Capitals’ dugout. That’s when Dhawan breaks into a 1000 Watt smile, and pops up a dazzling victory twig. Rahane obliges the camera, more with a perfunctory smile than anything. Returning to serve us a stoic profile, eyes on the game. 

Shikhar Dhawan is a white ball cricketer for India. Ajinkya Rahane a red ball one. Both have been all-format cricketers. Letting go off formats, or rather being let go off, can be career stalling. Dhawan though, looks like a man who made his peace with all that. 

Only recently, he led an Indian squad to Sri Lanka for a one day and T20 series. It started well, for both Dhawan and India, but ended in losing the T20 series. That after Covid-19 and Sri Lankan spinners ravaged the Indian batting. 

Shikhar Dhawan finished that series with one fifty. A solid 86 not out, chasing, while Shaw, Suryakumar and Ishan Kishan went practically bonkers. Each of the three was gunning for a WT20 spot. Dhawan’s game was focused on an India win, he was the pivot. 

In his post-match interviews though, Shikhar Dhawan was The Dude. That White Russians and CCR were missing meant nothing. 

India won the ODI series, 2-1. Suryakumar Yadav Man of the series. Suryakumar missed the 2nd and 3rd T20s along with Ishan Kishan amongst others. Both made the WorldT20 squad.  

Two 40s and a duck later, Dhawan didn’t make the cut. 

***

Turning 36 in December, Dhawan is a cricketer with enough self-knowledge to stroll on rope bridges over crevices on high mountain passes. He could do them smiling in his sleep, stopping midway to whack his thigh for a lark. 

Sometimes, it seems Dhawan scores runs for a lark. He’s now gone past 400 runs in his last 5 IPLs. A Delhi Capitals’ mainstay, by far their most consistent bat, he has now scored 400+ runs in every edition of the IPL since 2016.

On the face of it, Dhawan’s game can oscillate between extreme ease and high risk. Even when the ease is there, Dhawan appears to be ‘skating away on the thin ice of a new day’ – he cuts Rashid Khan so late, in front of the stumps, you’d think the percentages are stacked against him. 

But this is how Dhawan plays. The perilously late late cuts, the charge down the wicket to seamers, arguably his bailout shot, the meander a few paces down for a defensive block. If you’re looking for stillness, look elsewhere. 

Everything about Dhawan is animated. From face to feet, he is a Jumping Jack Flash. 

The shift to all-out rockstar has happened after moving to Delhi Capitals. Previously, at Sunrisers Hyderabad, he played second fiddle to David Warner. The runs were there, not quite the strike rate.   

Moving to Delhi in 2019, the seeds for a switch were sown. Even though Dhawan had an exceptional last season at SRH, propping them to the finals, the shift to Delhi was definitive. 

As the franchise changed its name, something changed within Dhawan. Previously at SRH, there was often a brooding way about Dhawan; this was apparent in post-match interviews. Perhaps being overlooked for captaincy hadn’t gone down too well with him.

At Delhi Capitals, Dhawan was back home in more ways than one. He started at the franchise, this was the city of his birth. Within no time, it became the city of his IPL rebirth. 

In the 2020 season, Dhawan cracked two back-to-back tons. He led DC’s surge to their first IPL final. 

***

Often regular India players can switch off in the IPL. It has happened in the past with the best, will continue to. There is no way an all-format player can be switched on in league cricket all the time.

But what if you are not a regular India player anymore? What if, as in Dhawan’s case, the T20 exclusion is added to Test absentia?

You have no choice to turn up, be present. Use perhaps the greatest cricketing cliché ever: Make your bat do the talking.

***

Shikhar Dhawan tonks Rashid Khan for six over midwicket. It’s within the power play. But it’s Rashid with that reputation. 

Five overs later, Rashid to Dhawan again. That same old adventurism again. Dhawan holds out this time. 

More often than not though, if Dhawan plays at least 10 overs, DC’s top-heavy batting order will hold sway against most teams. 

Opening with the tumultuous Shaw, adds an extra dose of caution to Dhawan’s batting. One that isn’t inbuilt in his game but something he has warmed up to. With the return of Shreyas Iyer at three, there could be more twists in the plot. 

While Prithvi Shaw has been striking at 165 (after 9 matches), 8 of these matches were played in India. Shaw’s last season, also played in the U.A.E., saw him being dropped after 13 games. 

Between the maverick Shaw and the conservative Iyer, Dhawan will have the added demand of switching gears.

Shikhar Dhawan. Gabbar. Jatji. The One. He’s many things to many people. The time has come yet again for him to reinvent, from one game to the other, often in the course of an innings. 

Dhawan knows how to adapt to situations. Somewhere deep down though, he’d want to make the national selectors bend, and adapt to him.

Therein lies the twist, for DC, Dhawan, this IPL. 

And one more tattoo of an ICC event, who knows?

First published here

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