At India’s practice session on Friday (August 18), the nets adjacent to the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium shook with every flash of Shikhar Dhawan’s blade. Those who stood a few feet behind him were left in awe.
Even among those in front, Ravi Shastri, the head coach, and Sanjay Bangar, the batting coach, had “shotttttttt!” spilling out of their mouths each time Dhawan laid bat to ball. No one at the session looked as compact or was hitting the ball quite as hard as Dhawan. Mind you Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya went through their sessions on those exact wickets too.
Those witnessing Dhawan bat knew that he was still feeling the touch that had helped him to two centuries in the three-match Test series that had just concluded. The pattern didn’t change much the next day either, as he hit it far and wide under the lights in the pre-match practice session, this time on the practice pitches on the main ground.
Never was he out of position. Never was he not finding the middle.
It then continued to be much the same on Sunday as he smashed Sri Lanka into submission with an unbeaten 132 from 90 balls with 20 fours and three sixes to guide India to a nine-wicket win in the first One-Day International.
Dhawan has had a stellar 2017 with four half-centuries and a couple of centuries in one-dayers. Even in Tests, lady luck smiled upon him as he was called up to replace an injured M Vijay before the start of the series against Sri Lanka. He whacked 190 in the first Test and 119 in the third before landing in Dambulla for the first ODI.
“The last time I felt like I was batting in this zone was in 2013 during the Champions Trophy,” said Dhawan in the post-match press conference.
Dhawan, after making his one-day debut in 2010, wasn’t sure of a spot in the side after a poor string of scores, but was given an opportunity during the Champions Trophy. He repaid the selectors’ faith in him with a chart-topping 363 runs from five games with a highest of 114. The swashbuckling left-hander hasn’t put together a string of scores with such consistency since, but 3,721 runs in ODIs at an average of 45.37 isn’t too shabby for someone facing the music at the top of the order.
Three centuries since arriving in Sri Lanka clearly is as close to that run, but one has to wonder if batsmen think of the impending lull when going through a patch as purple.
“Well I have already had a slump so I don’t think about it,” said Dhawan with a toothy grin. “When it has to come, it will come. When it doesn’t come… I really don’t think about. I embrace that period also. When I was not doing well I was just focussing on my processes. And when I am doing well, I am still focussing on my processes. So those things don’t bother me that much. I feel failure teaches you a lot, and I am lucky I have learnt so much out of that.”
The law of averages will catch up with Dhawan at some point, but there’s little to fret about when the man himself is as accepting of the inevitability of sport and life. He chooses to live in the now, which is why the 2019 World Cup wasn’t high on the list of things to focus on at the moment.
“It’s a long time away,” said Dhawan. “I would like to keep performing well. That would be my goal because if I don’t perform there are such great batsmen in our side that anyone can take the place.
“Also I would like to keep my fitness at a high level because keeping up with these young boys is tough. Apart from that I don’t set too many other goals. I just focus on my process and when I do that things fall into place.”
Such ideals blend seamlessly into the Buddhist hot spot that is Sri Lanka, but how long they last on the cricket field remains to be seen.