Once pacer Vinay Kumar received this green flag to begin his run-up, he trotted in towards Mohali’s batting cages, only to be stopped mid-run by Shikhar Dhawan’s outstretched palm. “Outfield kya hai?” enquired Dhawan, simultaneously gardening a stubborn tuft of grass.
Facing the left-hander, Vinay’s finger pointed towards square-leg, midwicket and cover. Smart, for he was going to bowl a leg-side line to a batsman who could do no wrong on the off side. With protection. Only, it pitched on middle and the batsman swooped around the ball and clattered it inside-out, towards his favoured region.
“Boundary boss, boundary,” Dhawan said with a wave of his arm. Clearly displeased and with hands on hips, Vinay said something inaudible about ‘off-side’ and ‘circle.’ He perhaps meant that the ball never would have penetrated the in-field. Dhawan didn’t reply, but just twisted his palm and smiled.
The gesture was far more articulate than any words could ever have been. It said: Throw every infielder and outfielder on the offside. And on this side, even God won’t come between my blade and the fence.
This, after all, is Mohali. And in Mohali, were he to drive his 4x4 through its narrow, traffic clogged lanes, he would pick, find and create more gaps than any Evel Knievel-inspired daredevil with a souped up motorbike. Here, after all, is where the legend of Dhawan was born just seven months back. When in his only Test innings to date, and with a congested off-side field to deal with, Dhawan plucked 124 out of his total of 187 runs from thin air, leaving Michael Clarke, Australia and the rest of the cricket watching the world in his wake.
“It is good to be back,” he said simply, doing his best Schwarzenegger impression at the press conference on the eve of the third one-dayer against Australia. Quite like Arnie, he attended the media gathering in a sleeveless top. And here in Mohali, his den, those biceps, triceps drew more attention than they do anywhere else in the world.
Has he got more tattoos inked in, some asked. Others wanted to know about his wife and kids. A query regarding his career turnaround was thrown in too. Was it mental or was it technical, they wanted to know. “I just smile a lot more,” he said, smiling to drive home the point. Finally, there was talk of some cricket. When, the questioner posed, did he and India believe that they would chase 360 and end up achieving the second highest ODI run chase of all time? Dhawan replied such. “The moment I put my batting gear on and left the dressing room.” This, coming from a man who is about to play just his fourth ODI in India.
Confidence, then, has been the key factor to the best comeback story of this year’s cricket calendar. At the Sawai Mansingh in Jaipur on Wednesday, that confidence in self helped Dhawan to refocus after he was jolted with a 154 kmph bouncer by Mitchell Johnson in the penultimate ball off the third over, one that fizzed past his squared-up left shoulder. That confidence in his ability made Dhawan swipe across his neck and maul Johnson’s following perfume ball past the midwicket fence.
Bat doing talking
He struck 13 more of those to score 95. By the time he was dismissed in the 27th over, India had scored a touch below half their target for the opening wicket — 176 runs. But it wasn’t so much the runs scored by him that deflated the Aussies as much as the manner in which they came.
A couple of overs before he was dismissed, the 25th, Shane Watson came around the wicket to Dhawan, attempting to choke his off side hits. The first ball pitched on middle and cut into the batsman. But a sure-footed Dhawan had skipped down the track and made enough room to drive just inches wide of the man at covers. The fielder moved only to retrieve the ball.
Next delivery, Watson drifted towards the off stump. Dhawan pressed back and cut it past the man at point for four more. Watson wasn’t happy, which showed in the length (short) and words (spicy) he chose for the remainder of the over. Dhawan didn’t score off the first two bouncers. But when he climbed over the third and casually dabbed it down for a quick single, Watson was a broken man.
“There were some abuses from his end at this point,” Dhawan said on Friday. And what did he reply? Twirling his now cult moustache, he said: “Oh, nothing at all. I just smiled back.”
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