“I was just saying jokingly that if you bat like a king, you should also get out like a king, you should not be dismissed like a soldier.”
Thus said Shikhar Dhawan, in Hindi, after the opening day of India’s third and final Test against Sri Lanka on Saturday (August 12), a topsy-turvy exchange leaving the visitors on 329 for 6 at stumps after having reached 188 without loss by mid-afternoon.
Both Dhawan, who made his sixth Test century and his second of the series, and KL Rahul, who was his partner in that opening salvo, were dismissed by Malinda Pushpakumara, the left-arm spinner, playing their strokes. It was after their dismissals that the pattern of play changed, as Sri Lanka wended their way back into the contest with repeated strikes through Pushpakumara and Lakshan Sandakan, the chinaman bowler.
“If you have made runs aggressively, then you must get out that way too,” Dhawan added after slamming 119 off just 123 deliveries with 17 fours. “That’s how it is. I know I am an aggressive batsman, so I would rather get out that way than getting out in the slips, being defensive — because that is not my natural game. My game, my planning is to keep looking to score runs, it works for me. My strength is to score quickly and I like to play to my strengths.”
Dhawan said he had never thought about revisiting his aggression even if it sometimes led to his downfall. “When I was having failures, during that time I had a different kind of approach,” he pointed out. “I was more on the defensive mode but now, I try to go and express myself out there and play my natural game. That works for me. I try to back myself as much as possible.
“When we (Rahul, who was dismissed for 85, and himself) were both 75-80, we didn’t talk much to each other about the approaching centuries, but each batsman talks to himself, he can see that 100 is not far away. Each batsman has his own plan on how to get there. Some like to do it in singles, with less risk. I know which bowler I can target, I work on that basis. Rahul is also a similar batsman like me, he tries to take on the bowler. It works for me, and sometimes it doesn’t work.”
Unlike his usual celebrations – bat in one hand, helmet in the other, feet stretched wide and arms raised in acknowledgement – Dhawan’s routine was different this time around. He shed his gloves and helmet, held aloft the thumb and forefinger of both hands as he made the ‘V’ sign, and made a little body thrust towards the dressing-room. “It was a fun thing with the boys. We made a sign, it had nothing to do with the second century (of the series) or anything. They gave me a new name and I was just celebrating that. And no, I can’t disclose the name!”
Dhawan admitted that Sri Lanka had fought back brilliantly in the second half of the day. “They came back well. Their body language was good, they held good catches. Whatever credit they get, they deserve it,” he said. “They bowled in consistent areas, and because there wasn’t much bounce in the wicket, if you hit it in the air, you don’t get the elevation.
“That (329 for 6 from 188 for 0) happens, it’s not that it has happened for the first time. We got a good start and still feel at the end of the day, 329 is a good score. Those who are batting now (Wriddhiman Saha and Hardik Pandya) are capable of scoring big runs and it’s a wicket where it is not spinning but it doesn’t have bounce, so it’s not easy to score runs out there even the outfield is not that quick. When Sri Lanka come out to bat, we are going to make sure that we squeeze them hard and not give away easy runs. Myself and Rahul, we played very nicely. We were playing our shots and got out, it was not as if we were getting out because of the wicket or anything. After that, the Sri Lankan bowlers bowled well and pulled the match a little bit on their side but we’ve got a decent score and still got good batsmen to go and score more runs tomorrow, maybe 400-plus.”
The pitch had generated much interest even before the start after the work that had been put in by the ground staff the previous day to turn a green deck into a more subcontinental offering. “It is dry but I can’t say right now whether it is going to break or anything, because I don’t know about it,” Dhawan said, frankly. “Let’s see how it goes on the third day and we will all know actually, not just me.”