It’s tough to realise, until much later, when a sportsperson reaches his peak. Lionel Messi keeps firing in an incredible number of goals every season, yet not many would dare to claim that he can’t get better next term. Neither does a significant improvement lead to peak satisfaction for there’s always a higher standard against which the player’s accomplishments are measured; a benchmark that remains elusive.

Shikhar Dhawan’s performances in the past six months or so have been marked by rare excellence. Yet, going forward, the questions that he faces are laced with a certain agony and doubt. Will he able to maintain his form in the bowler-friendly conditions in South Africa? How will he fare against top quality quick bowlers in Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander?

Whether Dhawan continues his heroics in the Rainbow Nation is moot point, but he will certainly be undaunted by the challenge. The character displayed by the Delhi lad ever since he exploded on the international scene at Mohali against Australia should considerably quell the doubts of the observers.

Dhawan’s aggressive style of batting has a demoralising effect on the bowlers, as revealed by Dwayne Bravo after becoming the latest captain to fail to control the exuberant left-hander. The opener’s fifth ODI hundred led India to a 2-1 series win over West Indies in Kanpur on Wednesday.

“Shikhar just took the game away from us. When a batsman of his class behaves positive and plays all around the ground, as a captain it is difficult to set fields for him in that flow,” Bravo said.

“It’s obvious that when a player of his calibre gets a start, most times he cashes in. His record speaks for itself.”

The emergence of Dhawan and Rohit Sharma as a successful partnership has also provided a solution to India’s problems over openers in ODIs.

There was more than a little worry when Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir faded away, but the void has been filled by the young duo adequately.

Since the beginning of Champions Trophy in June, Dhawan and Sharma have already been involved in six century partnerships.

Certainly, a test of greater magnitude will await India in South Africa.

It will be Dhawan’s second trip to the country in four months. In addition to the national team’s limited-overs openers, Suresh Raina, M. Vijay and Mohammed Shami were beneficiaries of astute planning by the BCCI which organised India A’s tour of South Africa in August.

Dhawan, especially, enjoyed the limited-overs leg of the trip. India A had won the tri-series, which had also involved Australia A, with the Delhi batsman scoring 410 runs in four matches.

Significantly, in the final round-robin fixture against the host, Dhawan established the highest individual score for an ‘A’ side as he struck 248 off 150 balls to lead India to the final.

The 27-year-old believes that tour in August should place him in good stead for a potentially career-defining series that begins next month.

The peak, Dhawan will feel, is yet to arrive.

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