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Shikhar Dhawan, the big stage man returns with a bang against Australia

Shikhar Dhawan led Indias march over Australia with a fluent hundred

London, June 10: The one thing every performer worth his salt dreads is stage-fright. You can be the most talented, the most skillful, the most accomplished, and yet if you allow nerves to get the better of you when confronted with a massive platform and a scrutinizing audience, all of those traits will count for nothing.

Shikhar Dhawan has, clearly, not heard of that term. On his belated first Test appearance, in March 2013, he blazed to the fastest hundred on debut on his way to creaming Australia to the tune of 187 runs in Mohali. That triggered a sequence of successes on the grandest of stages; especially in global tournaments, Dhawan positively feeds off the magnitude of the event, as his impressive record coming into this World Cup reiterates.

In 19 matches in the ICC Champions Trophy and the World Cup prior to this tournament, Dhawan had stacked up 1,121 runs at an incredible 62.28, studded by five hundreds and four fifties. These exceptional numbers, backed up by his left-handedness that complements the silken right-handed skills of Rohit Sharma, make him an important cog of the Indian wheel. He didn’t have a great day out in Southampton, but he immediately set the record straight on Sunday (June 9) with an innings of great commonsense and subliminal skill in the English capital.

India have historically relied on excellent starts from their vanguards, which then allows the middle-order to come and do its bidding. When they arrived in England some 20 days back to launch their bid for a third World Cup title, they again expected their openers to set the tone; after all, both men have glittering records in multi-team competitions.

Rohit didn’t disappoint in the opener against South Africa in Southampton, with a vital unbeaten 122. As if not to be left behind, Dhawan followed suit at The Oval, producing a mesmeric 117 on which India rode piggyback to a 36-run conquest of defending champions Australia.

The result was significant in more ways than one. India have a slew of formidable opponents lined up in the first half of their league campaign, and a good early run would allow them to make a strong pitch for a semifinal berth. Furthermore, Australia have been one of India’s biggest bugbears in World Cup play; in eleven previous showdowns, India had finished second-best on eight occasions.

Most damagingly, they had seen Australia recover from 0-2 down to pull off a 3-2 heist on Indian patch this March. India needed this win desperately, just as they needed someone to put his hand up and grab responsibility. Who better than the man who enjoys ICC tournaments?

Against the crack new-ball duo of Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, Dhawan swallowed his pride. The early period of consolidation was to come in handy later on, and when he decided to change gears, he did so effortlessly, without warning. A shimmy down the track to clatter Nathan Coulter-Nile through mid-off stoked his aggressive juices, and he followed that up with a cracking cut and a well-weighted dab through point off the next two deliveries. Those three fours ignited a riot of strokeplay, erected around judicious running and gentle nurdling.

Dhawan is at his most effective when he relies on timing rather than power. Every time he has tried to hit the cover off the ball, he has gotten himself into a tangle. On Sunday, his fabled timing was on full view as he entertained the packed gathering with a range of iridescent 'wow’ strokes. Leg-spinner Adam Zampa felt the full brunt of his fury, but the man from Delhi wasn’t sparing of anyone. The cascade of sweetly struck boundaries from his rapier sped through the vast outfield to slam into the advertising

hoarding, the steady tattoo of the white ball on those boards making for particularly mellifluous music to those in the Indian dressing-room.

What made the effort even more special was that he was batting through serious pain after being struck on his left thumb by Cummins in the ninth over. The blow was severe enough to keep him indoors when India came out to defend their imposing 352; India will be hoping it isn’t so serious as to put him in doubt for Thursday’s Nottingham face-off against New Zealand.

(R Kaushik is a cricket writer who has followed the sport closely for nearly three decades, and is covering his seventh World Cup)

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Story first published: Monday, June 10, 2019, 9:14 [IST]
Other articles published on Jun 10, 2019
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