Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 13 : 53
As far back as 2004, nine years ago, an 18-year-old made his first-class debut for Delhi. Opening the innings, this young lad would fall one short of a well-deserved fifty, but the start had been made to what turned out to be an uphill climb and an agonising wait.
Over the years, Shikhar Dhawan kept things simple and quietly piled on the runs. In those nine years, he played 82 first-class games, scored 5,886 runs with 17 hundreds and 24 fifties (talk about a great conversion rate). Add to that another 102 List A games with 10 centuries and 21 fifties. Not to mention another 78 Twenty20 matches that he added to his CV along the way.
That's a lot of time in domestic cricket. While some of India's recent recruits have been lucky to earn an ODI/Test cap rather early, Dhawan has had to wait, score, wait again, score some more and wait some more. Such has been his story in Indian cricket.
Credit must be given to Dhawan then, because this 27-year-old never lost focus and kept trying. Indian cricket has lost quite a few players when in transition. Some were born in the wrong era, some weren't nurtured and many were just ignored by the selectors/system for reasons best known to them, but here was a typical Delhi boy with the attitude of a believer and the vision of an achiever.
It's evident today that Dhawan is playing tough cricket only because of the rough times he has seen on his way to the Indian dressing room. His is a prime example of someone who had nothing to lose after nine years of the grind. So much so that his attitude had the right mixture of boldness, brashness, defiance and arrogance.
For the world, Dhawan was making his debut. But for Dhawan, he was walking out to bat in his tenth year as a professional. For him, it was an instance where he just wanted to let go of the years of anguish, despair and dejection. That 'and finally' moment where he wasn't keen to impress but express - that finest hour where the consequence did not matter but the experience did. Here was a struggler who walked into the frame stating he was already the protagonist of his own feature film.
Dhawan has always come across as a free spirit who would rather talk to himself when he wanted an opinion and only listen to himself when he had to make a decision. The swagger in his step has more to do with the self-assurance and conviction he has in his ideologies. A cricketer who rarely spoke of his plans, his masculine demeanour is an indication that he believed in work and homework. Add to that his moustache and I am forced to call him the 'Udham Singh' of Indian cricket. Dhawan's rustic appeal coupled with his fearless approach and strut is bound to make him an instant trendsetter with the current generation.
Translate that into his batting and his shot selection is a mixture of flamboyance with a tinge of arrogance. At times rather unconventional, here is a man who backs his game so much that he brings in his own style and substance. Be it his career or his batting, Dhawan sets his own pace in his own space. His mind appears to be so strong that the typical insecurities of an Indian cricketer elude him. He is comfortably numb to failure as he is dignified and restrained in success.
Dhawan was like a compressed spring waiting to explode, and the patience and persistence of those long years bore fruit in his over four-hour stay in the middle. That century celebration was confirmation of his relief. Finally, the monkey was off the back and there he went about venting years of toil up into the air. His moment of truth had arrived, his moment of joy, his moment of vindication. To score 187 in 174 deliveries at a strike rate of 107, laced with 33 fours and two sixes are not just numbers for him.
Today we have the opportunity to witness Cheteshwar Pujara because Rahul Dravid retired. The reason we can watch Virat Kohli bat is only because VVS Laxman called it a day and today we are seeing Dhawan because Virender Sehwag was finally dropped. I don't want to get into this senior/junior debate. It's just that youth needs enough time and an equal number of chances.
Maybe instead of being afraid of change, it's time to accept it. We don't have to look at it as the end of the Sehwag-Gambhir opening combination. Let's rather view it as a new combination that beckons Indian cricket. This young man has waited long enough and it is time to welcome Shikhar Dhawan. The men in charge of Indian cricket owe it to him, to allow him to grow and express himself, because despite being denied over the years, this left-hander has defied the odds and inscribed his name on to Indian cricket's history in his own way.