Shikhar Dhawan yawning before the first ball of Afghanistan’s Test could either be construed as a sign of disrespect or as a man going through a normal human process. Social media, but obviously, chose to dwell on the former.
Yes, it is a bit strange to let out a huge yawn before taking guard to a bowler, even if one is as inexperienced as Yamin Ahmadzai, with a brand new red-ball in hand. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Dhawan insinuated the opposition was meek and easy to put away.
Social media does thrive on instances such as this. It obviously didn’t help that Dhawan made a mockery of Afghanistan’s bowling between the start of play and lunch at the M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore on Thursday (June 14).
No matter the opposition, a batsman’s job isn’t as simple as Dhawan made it out to be en route to an 87-ball 100. One nick here, one bad decision there, and you’re out. As much as they call this the ‘batsman’s game’, the truth is that the batsman has just one chance to make it count, unlike a bowler who can always return to his mark and have another crack at his opponent.
This was Dhawan’s opportunity to return to Test form. This was his chance to clear any doubts the selectors would have had over picking him for the upcoming tour of England. This was his chance to shine.
The bowling wasn’t nearly as top-quality for someone who has scored big centuries against some of the toughest oppositions in world cricket, and the pitch wasn’t exactly tough to bat on either, but Dhawan had to still choose the right shot. And until his dismissal, barring that one time he got away on 24, Dhawan found the sweet spot of his bat with ridiculous ease and immaculate accuracy.
“If you look at my style of play, even in the last Test series in Sri Lanka (his last Test series was in South Africa), I played with the same mindset – a positive mindset. I was in good touch in the Indian Premier League and I am glad I have continued that here,” Dhawan said after his knock of 107 carried India to 347 for 6 in 78 overs.
Two boundaries off Wafadar in the second over of the Test set the ball rolling, but it was the seventh over that laid the foundation for those who believed Dhawan was going to make a big one on the day.
A couple of powerful flicks sandwiching a crisp drive through cover off Yamin Ahmadzai brought the sparse crowd to its feet, and even M Vijay couldn’t help but get a good look at Dhawan’s bat after the second flick off the pads.
Each time Dhawan made contact with the ball, it sounded like thunder. He didn’t hold back on any stroke, playing with freedom and spotting the ball well in advance. If ever there needed to be an advertisement for decisive stroke play, this was it.
When his concentration did waver and Wafadar did manage to incite a nick, Asghar Stanikzai, on Mohammad Nabi’s insistence, did not take the review. Dhawan knew that it was one such day.
Nabi’s bare-basic off-spin was met with a huge six in the tweaker’s opening over. His next was smacked for a couple boundaries – one a sweep and the other a flat-bat swat to through cover. Afghanistan, tired of bleeding 62 runs after 13 overs, brought on their most lethal weapon: Rashid Khan.
Almost as if he had waited for this moment since the start of the day, Dhawan went after Rashid with a vengeance. Rashid didn’t help his cause by bowling a couple of full-tosses to aid the man in form. A few quiet overs later, Dhawan went after his Sunrisers Hyderabad team-mate once again, belting him for two boundaries and a huge six after dancing down the track.
“Rashid is a top-class bowler and I enjoyed my battle with him. Since I dominated I enjoyed it (laughs) but as I said, he is a great bowler,” said Dhawan. “I just went with the flow. The advantage I had is that I had faced him in nets for two years because we play for the same IPL team. That really helped me.”
Rashid was losing the battle against Dhawan, and if that wasn’t a bitter enough pill to swallow for the visitors, Mujeeb ur Rahman, their second best spinner, was taken to the cleaners too. Dhawan smacked the finger-spinner for four fours in the 25th over with the stellar use of his feet.
The next over, Rashid came on to bowl with Dhawan on 96, four runs shy of becoming the first Indian to score a century by lunch on the opening day of a Test match. As fate would have it, Dhawan read the googly as clean as day and sent the ball scurrying to the fence through the cover region.
“Yeah, it feels great. Of course, I didn’t know that nobody has scored hundred in a session (lunch) but once I came back I read the thing on TV, I felt grateful about it,” he offered with a toothy grin.
Eventually, Dhawan ran out of time when Ahmadzai put an end to the blitz with his scalp in the second over after lunch.
To put his knock and the 168-run alliance in perspective, India lost the following five wickets for 166 runs. India had slipped up despite a start of such ferocity, and Afghanistan ended the day with enough to be happy about. But when they do reminisce on their first day playing Test cricket, the sound of Dhawan’s bat crushing the ball will most certainly ring in their ears. If not that, there’s always the yawn to remember.