These are times of great churn in Indian cricket. If a week reflects the pace of change in politics, as the cliché goes, it has to be 'the last 48 hours' for Shikhar Dhawan. The nearly man of the national team over the last two years, the Delhi opener has not had a moment's rest since he was
selected for the Australia Tests on Sunday.
"Pichhle do din mein jitna attention mila, utna khelne ke time mein nahin tha," he said softly on being greeted, flashing a smile. "Look at these," he pointed to his tired eyes behind shades.
Fellow trainees keenly watched the star pupil as the 27-year-old moved across the sprawling St Mark's Senior Secondary School ground in Paschim Vihar to meet his coach.
Tweaking the ends of his moustache, Dhawan, in a pink jumper with 'raging bulls' emblazoned on it, however, sounded a touch philosophical, more like a seasoned campaigner than an aspirant. It was understandable. A member of the 2004 U-19 squad, he saw teammates like Suresh Raina and Robin Uthappa join the India ranks.
There was no doubting his ability. Being part of a Ranji set-up that included Sehwag, Gambhir and Virat settled that argument. But his natural aggression and the resultant hit-and-miss pegged him back. Scores of 0 - on India debut versus Australia in late 2010 -- and 51, 3, 4 and 11 in the next four one-dayers on the 2011 West Indies tour betrayed that weakness.
But gradually he steeled himself. "It is not a long wait, that is part and parcel of the game," he shrugged. "Ek bande ko agar zid hoti hai, wo use aage kheechti hai." (If one is adamant to succeed, it pulls him forward).
It was time to change focus. "Much has changed in him in the last two years. Sometimes, one has to be a bit selfish, think only about one's game," said coach, Madan Sharma.
The restless India hopeful found inner calm. Stints in the National Cricket Academy (NCA) helped. Yoga and Sufi music channeled his energy; he now looks for things that are 'more meaningful'.
The result was there for all to see. He honed his waiting game in the nets. "I follow Kapil Dev's message put up in the NCA, it says the character of a player is moulded in the nets." He had failed on his first India 'A' tour of Australia, but scored 146 for an emerging players' side in 2011. Slammed for throwing away his wicket in a Ranji loss two seasons ago, he led a tough chase to beat Maharashtra this season. The demons were being slayed.
In 2011, he hit centuries in both innings of the Irani Cup but failed subsequently. He ensured there would be no such slump this season.
So, who inspires him? The name of Andy Flower tumbles out first. Yuvraj Singh ("his flamboyance") and Matthew Hayden are also in the left-handed batsmen's club.
His best moment on the pitch was provided in 2009 by none other than Sachin Tendulkar. "We opened for the Mumbai Indians and I played out a maiden over. He came down the pitch, punched his glove with mine and said, 'take the positivity from me'. I still made zero, but it is very special for me."
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