It has been close to a year since India's attacking left-handed opener Shikhar Dhawan made a scintillating Test debut against Australia at Mohali where he plundered a breathtaking century. The hard-working Delhi lad enjoyed a dream start but was faced with a lot of hurdles ahead. He can now look back and take stock of what has been a roller-coaster 12 months in top-flight cricket.
Dhawan carried the highs of a splendid debut to England where India beat the hosts in the final to clinch the ICC Champions Trophy 2013. With 363 runs in five innings at an exceptional average of 90.75, Dhawan finished as the best batsman of the tournament by a mile. He slammed back-to-back centuries against South Africa and the West Indies in the tournament and proved to the selectors that he was no one-match wonder and that he was ready to take up the mantle of opening the batting for India across formats. Stepping into the shoes of Delhi teammates, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, the task was cut out for him and he took the chance like it was his last.
Dhawan continued to enjoy more success with the bat in the tri-series between India, West Indies and Sri Lanka in the West Indies, followed by a tour to Zimbabwe where a lot of senior players like MS Dhoni and Ravichandran Ashwin were given a break. There too, he slammed an ODI century. The purple patch continued as India hosted Australia in a seven-match ODI series. With scores of 98, 100 and 60 across the seven matches and at a strike rate of 123.29, Dhawan displayed the right mix of positive intent and consistency.
Then came the first blip. During Sachin Tendulkar's farewell Test series in India against the West Indies, Dhawan failed to emulate his form from ODIs in Tests. In the ODI series against the West Indies, he slammed another ton to become the first cricketer to score
The real overseas test
Dhawan faced trial by fire when India travelled to South Africa to take on the world's best Test side in their own backyard. His aggressive intent and the habit of being a compulsive puller of the ball backfired on him. He also found it extremely tough to negotiate swing and bounce generated by the South African troika of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander. He finished with just 76 runs in four innings. The high-flying and confident batsman with a positive approach was brought crashing back to Planet Earth but refused to give in. He rather chose to introspect on what probably went wrong.
"From South Africa, when I didn't score that much, I analysed my game that as a batsman, or as an opener, what shots I have to play at the start or what shots I shouldn't play. Every pitch is different. We were playing in India a lot that time (just before going to South Africa). Then when I went there, it was a setback, " Dhawan told ESPNCricinfo. "Then I realised, 'Okay on these kinds of tracks I need to play these kind of shots. And I have to leave bouncers (alone) at the start because the bounce is different, and it is hard to keep the ball down.' That's what I did and brought those things into my practice," he added.
There was very little time for Dhawan to recover from the poor showing in South Africa as India were packed off to New Zealand almost immediately, for a two-match Test series and a five-match ODI series. India failed to produce the results but there was a clear indication that Dhawan had put in a lot of hard work to make amends to his approach. There was a sense of maturity in his approach. This time around, 218 runs came off his willow in four innings, including a century and a knock of 98 that put India well within a chance of winning an overseas Test.
Looking back fondly at an eventful year that has gone by, Dhawan said, "One year is over already. It went so quickly. Good time always flies really fast. I celebrated on my own, the first anniversary with the Indian team. It's a great feeling. We won so many series, and of course we saw a bit of down time too. But that's how it is. You see ups and downs both. It is a beautiful journey. I am happy that I have been contributing to my side. I want to keep doing that, I want to keep improving as a batsman, and keep winning matches and series for my side."
Having already played a crucial role in India's triumph in the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 in England, Dhawan will be eager to be among the runs once again when India travel to Bangladesh for the Twenty20 World Cup in Bangladesh later this month and hope to remain in the scheme of things when India aim to defend their ICC World Cup title in Australia and New Zealand in 2015.