Come 6th January and the pressure on three Delhi men in Sydney will be immense. While Virat Kohli takes over the reins of a young Indian team under the most dramatic circumstances, Ishant Sharma will have to come to terms with the sudden realization of becoming the senior most in the team and the added responsibility of prospective vice Captaincy. However, while these two will most certainly take the field on Tuesday, the third of the trio knows it well that he isn’t guaranteed a place in the XI for the last Test. In fact, chances are that Shikhar Dhawan might just have played his last match in India whites.
Getting his chance relatively late by Indian standards at 27, he seemed to have grabbed it with both hands with a scintillating 187 carved in a bit over two sessions against Australia. The announcement was grand as he went into the record books as the fastest centurion on debut. And so were the chest thumping and moustache twirling idiosyncrasies of the man who had, in one knock, sent India’s favorite Virender Sehwag into oblivion. One knock and that was enough for the Indian fans to accept the southpaw as the perfect replacement for his Delhi teammate with an experience of over 100 Tests.
But as they say in Boxing, the bigger they come the harder they fall, Shikhar’s career after that 187 in Mohali seemed hell bent on proving the adage true.
Just thrice in next his 22 innings has Dhawan been able to cross 40 and none of them contributing in India win. If one has to find one constant in India’s failures overseas in the last 14 months, the search ends at Dhawan’s struggle. He looked at sea against the short stuff in South Africa but managed to keep his place with a 115 followed by 98 against New Zealand, although they too were preceded and succeded by a 0 and 2. But the swinging conditions in England and his inability to control his urge to fend off at short and wide deliveries led him to be replaced by Gambhir in Southampton. Gambhir failed miserably. Dhawan improved his performance in ODIs and forced the selectors to repose faith in him one last time for the tour Down Under. But the script hardly changed. Few good looking boundaries. Hope. A moment of indecision. Gone!
Dhawan going from sublime to shambolic has hurt India badly. The importance of a big opening partnership in Test Cricket can’t be stressed enough, more importantly when the team is touring. Sadly for India, the last century opening stand overseas came in 2010. Vijay and Dhawan, although look good on paper as a left-right combination with contrasting styles of batting, haven’t been able to translate that potential into performance on the pitch. 56 is the highest the scoreboard has seen against the fall of zero wickets when these two have batted overseas. A sub-plot that goes a long way in explaining the larger plot of India’s struggle overseas.
Dhawan’s failures assume gargantuan proportions when seen on the backdrop of the rise and rise of his opening partner Murali Vijay. Its not the big scores that Vijay has been able to put on board or the consistency at which he has done it, but the changes to that he has made to his technique that should shame Dhawan. Vijay has shown the will to negotiate pace, bounce, swing, turn or whatever the bowlers across the world have thrown at him. He has put a price on his wicket and has looked completely in his zone while batting. Same can’t be said for Dhawan who has numerous occasions reached 25 with pomp and show, miles faster than his dour partner, but failed to kick on. Blame technique or temperament, the result has been same – a weak start that puts the team on the backfoot straightaway. Strangely, Vijay’s career has blossomed with Dhawan around as he has scored at an average of 48 in 17 Tests since the left hander’s debut.
With his form already in tatters, Dhawan has done himself no good by ruffling the new skipper’s feathers in Brisbane, although the spat egged on Dhawan to score his only 50 of the tour. Another man whose rise would make Dhawan nervous is Rahane. Jinks, the Rahul Dravid carbon copy that he is turning out to be, has both the technique and temperament to replace Dhawan at the top of the order. However, Skipper Kohli might not risk his only in form middle order batsman by asking him to open .
So, where does the Shikhar story go from here? A lot depends on what pans out in Sydney. If the Delhi dasher plays, he should know that it might just be his last chance at reviving a failing Test career. If he is benched and an 8 year younger KL Rahul gets his skipper’s confidence and makes it big, then we might just have seen the last of Dhawan in Tests, at least for some time. However, the hallmark of Dhawan’s cricket till now has been the confidence he has in his abilities, and considering that India plays most of its cricket in its own backyard for next two years, he would fancy his chances. But the question that will linger on till 6th – Does he have any more of them left to prove that he belongs here or did he just blow his last with a 5 ball duck at the MCG?