Rishi Dhawan was one of six Wisden India Cricketers of the Year for 2015 for heading the 2013-14 Ranji Trophy bowling charts. © Wisden India

Rishi Dhawan was one of six Wisden India Cricketers of the Year for 2015 for heading the 2013-14 Ranji Trophy bowling charts. © Wisden India

On Wednesday (May 6), as Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kings XI Punjab were inside their dressing rooms after the toss getting ready for the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2015 match at the M Chinnaswamy stadium, four members of the squads, two each from Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kings XI Punjab, stayed on the field till five minutes before the umpires walked in.

On one side was Varun Aaron, bowling on one of the practice pitches with Alan Donald behind the wickets. On the other side, Rishi Dhawan was bowling to Joe Dawes, the Punjab bowling coach.

Both Aaron and Dhawan play different roles for their team and both haven’t had the best IPL season so far. Aaron, who was expected to lead the bowling attack in the absence of Mitchell Starc, has failed to grab his opportunities and played six matches so far, leaking runs at 10.21 runs per over and has just three wickets in his kitty.

Dhawan, meanwhile, has played three matches. An economy of ten runs per over with no wickets to show for and to add to that just ten runs in three innings don’t do justice to the talent the Punjab allrounder possesses. And with Sandeep Sharma and Anureet Singh stepping up this season, and with Mitchell Johnson being the preferred overseas pacer, it’s clear why too many chances haven’t come his way.

Bought by Punjab two seasons ago for Rs 3 crore, he understands where he stands in the team. “If you see, I play as an allrounder. I need to score runs if I’ve to graduate,” he tells Wisden India. “I don’t think I’ve left any stone unturned when it comes to getting wickets, but I need to improve on my batting. I’m trying to work on my batting.”

He feels the time spent with Punjab has only made him a better player. “I’ve learnt a lot. If you see, the other players (Virender Sehwag, George Bailey, David Miller, Glenn Maxwell) are international stars,” he says. “One of the things that helped me is that they are always open to interactions. They keep telling me my mistakes in the net sessions or during the match.

“Sanjay Bangar sir (the coach) has helped me a lot. Spending two months with him helped me understand my game in a better way. Whatever I’ve learnt from him, I want to carry that forward now.”

His IPL tryst this year has been a different story from the rest of the domestic year. Dhawan ended the 2013-14 Ranji Trophy season, where he plays for Himachal Pradesh, as the highest wicket-taker with 49 wickets from eight matches. He followed that up the next year with 40 wickets from eight matches, finishing as the fifth-highest wicket-taker. With the bat, he has 1858 runs from 43 matches in all at an average of 40.39.

It feels good that my performance is being recognised. The others (Ajinkya Rahane, Angelo Mathews) are international players and if my performance along with them is getting noticed, I feel really happy. – Dhawan on being named the Wisden India Cricketer of the Year 2015

On being asked which performance he rates the best from last season, he starts, pauses, smiles, and finally picks two.

“I took a five-wicket haul against Assam in Guwahati. It was a turner and there was nothing for the pacers. And because of my performance we got an outright win also, which is important.

“Then, I got my best figures, 7 for 93 against Tripura. I bowled 30 overs there in the second innings on a placid wicket. I took eleven wickets in that match so I think, this was also one of my best performance,” he adds.

As he puts on his bowling boots, there’s time for one more question. He won the Madhavrao Scindia Award for being the highest wicket-taker in the 2013-14 Ranji Trophy season, and was named Wisden India Cricketer of the Year 2015 along with Ajinkya Rahane, Mithali Raj, Angelo Mathews, Umar Akmal and Mominul Haque. Ask him about it and he says: “It feels good that my performance is being recognised. The others are international players and if my performance along with them is getting noticed, I feel really happy.”

In his piece on Dhawan in the Wisden India Almanack 2015, Aakash Chopra, who played with Dhawan for Himachal, wrote: “His biggest challenge won’t be the desire to grow but to find the right means to evolve as a player. He has the ingredients to become the seam-bowling allrounder that MS Dhoni is searching for, but he’s not there yet. In his case, the longest and the most gruelling journey would be from being nearly there to getting there. His bowling is that of a third or fourth bowler. I doubt if he can be given more than seven or eight overs in a one-day international, while his batting won’t allow him to bat higher than No. 7. Such players are tempting to pick, but the current ODI rules of not more than four fielders outside the circle at any time means specialists are likely to get a nod before the bits-and-pieces players. Dhawan will have to make either the batting or his bowling a suit strong enough to merit a place in the side as a specialist, for if he can’t do it, he would join the long list of Indian cricket’s ‘nearly men’.”

Dhawan, for sure, wouldn’t want that.

To buy the 2015 Wisden India Almanack 2015 click here or here