The first thing you notice about Shikhar Dhawan is his thick, sharp, bushy moustache. The second thing you notice is how he twirls it-slowly, obviously, in a regal throwback to a time when maharajas were measured by the length and texture of their whiskers. But while those around him were engrossed with his facial hair, the left-handed opener got noticed for something entirely different. Suddenly, on the back of three international centuries, he is the great new hope at a time when Indian cricket is desperately seeking a new icon to help tide over allegations of spot-fixing and poor organisation.
Dhawan, 27, had stepped into the spotlight in the third Test against Australia at Mohali in March, slamming a brutal 187 on debut. With 33 fours and two sixes, it was hailed as a oncein-a-lifetime innings with nothing to lose after being on the fringes of international cricket as a Delhi Ranji Trophy player. He wasn't supposed to repeat it. But India's campaign at the Champions Trophy in England has been all about Dhawan again. His 114 against South Africa in the opening match at Cardiff on June 6, which India won by 26 runs, proved he was not a one-hit wonder. His unbeaten 102 against West Indies on June 11, in another eight-wicket victory at The Oval, proved he was hungry for more. The century run ended against Pakistan in the next match at Birmingham on June 15, where his 48, before he was caught at third-man, still played an important part in getting India into the tournament's semi-finals. He followed it up with a solid 68 against Sri Lanka, and another crucial 24-ball 31 against the run of play in the rain-hit 20-overs-a-side final. Scoring 363 runs at a staggering 90.75, Dhawan emerged as the tournament's 'golden bat'. The second-place man, Jonathan Trott of England, was 134 runs behind. "I had waited long for this opportunity to come my way and always knew I was good enough to fit into Team India. I will continue to play my natural attacking game and want to develop the habit of playing big knocks consistently," Dhawan told India Today.
"I'd dreamed of this. It's special as I was out of the side for a few years." The future holds great promise for Dhawan now. Bunty Sajdeh, the CEO of Cornerstone Sports, the company that manages him, has started getting endorsement offers. "He has a huge potential as far as his commercial viability is concerned," says Sajdeh. Selectors have started talking about how he's one of the first players they think of while discussing the Indian team for the South Africa Tests in November. And fans are already starting to describe him as their favourite. But Dhawan's back story is just as riveting as the road that lies ahead. A 13-year-old with a century on club debut, Dhawan had wowed Delhi's Sonnet Club coach Tarak Sinha with his ball-sense and temperament that suggested he could be a good opening batsman. But for most of his career this talent didn't serve him well. With Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Aakash Chopra-all openers and India players, and Virat Kohli at number 3-Dhawan was forced to plead for his place in the Delhi and North Zone teams, let alone Team India.
He had a dream start with the India under-19 team in Bangladesh, where he got the Man of the Series award in the World Cup in 2004. But Dhawan faced repeated disappointments, particularly being left out of the 2008 Irani Trophy game against Rest of India by Delhi skipper Virender Sehwag. His first brush for a depleted India team, in a one-day international against Australia at Visakhapatnam on October 20, 2010, ended in a duck.
Soon, Dhawan started losing his way. His teammates spoke of how he was no longer interested in his career, how he skipped training, partied harder than he should have, and seemed resigned to a life on the sidelines. But the entry of a woman in his life, Brit-Bengali Ayesha Mukherjee, 38, with whom his love affair started brewing slowly on Facebook-helped him refocus. The Melbourne-based Ayesha was on a holiday in India when the two first met. They discovered they liked the same things-bikes, sports, and tattoos. Ayesha asked him to start maintaining a diary in which he would vent his frustrations and jot down the errors creeping into his game, and made him read them at the end of the week. It was an exercise that worked wonders with his game at practice sessions, and brought the two even closer. But Ayesha, an amateur kickboxer more than 10 years Dhawan's senior, has two daughters from her previous marriage, and it took almost a year for Dhawan to convince his family that he wanted to be with her. They wed in March at Delhi's Vasant Kunj Gurudwara, where teammates Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Ishant Sharma danced unabashedly in the baraat.
The reinvented Dhawan now does yoga and regularly meets a Sikh leader referred by Yuvraj Singh. "The key to Shikhar's batting is in his mind. He always had talent. He gave the impression of being casual but he was determined to prove himself," says Madan Sharma, Dhawan's mentor. Dhawan also sponsors the education of a many poor children in Delhi. With India quietly knitting together a team for the 2015 World Cup, Dhawan's attitude, confidence and consistency is making him a natural choice at the top of the order. He has broken the jinx of being a typical domestic cricketer who is forever sitting on the sidelines. He was once a Sehwag-in-waiting, but he has now forced Sehwag himself to wait for another chance to break into the Indian team.
Reproduced From India Today. © 2013. LMIL. All rights reserved.