CRICKET / Vijay plays able foil; Smith, Starc miss centuries; tail helps visitors past 400
: He slipped into Virender Sehwag’s role with electrifying urgency. Shikhar Dhawan’s century on debut was an impeccable justification of the National selectors’ faith in him and a salute to his long-standing desire of making a lasting impact at the highest level. If the Australians discovered his punishing style of batting the hard way, it was the misfortune of the bowlers indeed.
Dhawan has rarely plundered runs with such imperious disdain that left the Aussies battered on a warm afternoon as India responded with 283 for no loss, Dhawan on 185 and Murali Vijay 83.
Having compiled 408, after resuming at 273 for seven, the Australians appeared to have the upper hand. If there was any advantage for the visiting team, it was an aberration, a grave error of judgement.
Not once did the Indian opener give the impression of playing in his first Test as he tore into the bowling with a knock that was a Hollywood thriller all the way. Dhawan may not have looked a left-handed replica of Sehwag, but he was close to being one, a classy entertainer in his own way this afternoon. What a coincidence!
Dhawan and Sehwag share the dressing room at Delhi and North Zone, have hit a century on Test debut, and possess a style quite similar, the hand-eye co-ordination and the conviction to bat aggressively making them a rare band of entertainers in the longer version of the game.
At Sonnet Club during his formative years, Dhawan was often chided for his pre-dominant on-side play. He gradually worked his way into the coach’s heart by learning to drive — often on the rise — and his repertoire of shots grew.
They were regally demonstrated during the course of this innings as he flayed the attack with a mesmerising show in keeping with his reputation.
Dhawan was not always a side-on batsman. Manoj Prabhakar, his coach at Delhi, convinced him to shed his open stance. It worked wonders.
Dhawan got the balance right and prospered to attract the attention of the selectors.
He had waited long after the glory of under-19 cricket.
Dhawan is known to be a daring individual. He hardly calculates or ponders at the crease. His style is simple. Take guard, back yourself, play the ball on merit, but not always. Here lies the philosophy of his batting. Nothing perturbs him. The bowler’s reputation does not worry him.
The nature of the pitch hardly causes discomfort. He must hit the ball and hit it hard too, but not always.
There were a couple of strokes on Saturday that he played literally from stance position, just presenting the face of the bat, a caress actually, to send the ball screaming.
At times, he lunged into a drive, as silken as you can expect. A drive — sometimes hard, but always delightful — and a cut — well-placed and fiercely connected — brought forth the striking aspects of his batting.
Dhawan’s timing was pristine. A push sent the ball on course when many would have had to hit firmly. He was willing to meet the ball with a determined bat, often taking the fielders on. If the Aussies challenged him, Dhawan accepted gladly. He bisected the field with élan.
When a fielder was added, he beat them all. His timing and placement was a fascinating combination.
A reverse sweep was followed by his traditional approach in the same over, just to confirm his controlled aggression at the crease.
His performance put in shade the excellent batting by Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc in the first session. Smith missed his century. So did Starc. But they contributed to give Australia reasons to smile.
Dhawan and Vijay wasted little time in leaving the Aussie camp in anguish.
Vijay would never grudge being pushed into the background. He had the best seat in the stadium to enjoy his partner’s batting.
At 27, Dhawan may have arrived late, but it is never too late. If Dhawan was a mere dot on the Indian cricket horizon a few days ago, he is now its brightest star.