India scoring at an acceptable run rate on the first day of the first Test in a four-match series against a lower-ranked team is expected. A little unexpected was all the jumping and hopping around to a fast bowler playing only his second Test against India on a pitch expected to slow down over time.
Looking back at the first day, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane probably had more technical finesse and shots to choose from, but Shikhar Dhawan showed more discipline. Had Dhawan not held out against the temptation to hit hard, the consolidation job could have become more difficult for Virat Kohli. A century would have highlighted his individual performance, but Dhawan’s knock of 84 was almost as good as any he has played in recent years.
The discipline that governed Dhawan’s transformation in the Indian Premier League (IPL) after a string of lacklustre scores allowed him to play the waiting game on Thursday. He had started the IPL on the edge. He ended it with patient but effective knocks that guided Sunrisers Hyderabad to the title. Key to this transformation is the change of stance. “I have brought that shuffle in my basics. I started doing that in IPL and I feel that it is working well for me at the moment and will keep doing it till the time it goes well for me,” said Dhawan after the end of day’s play.
But it wasn’t only about the shuffle. A naturally attacking batsman, Dhawan took the pain to cut down the risky shots. On Thursday, he hardly played anything to his off-side, preferring to stay back in the crease and pull, cut or flick the ball according to the length. On the flip side, he adopted this strategy only after being tested by the bounce and pace of Shannon Gabriel.
Fellow opener Murali Vijay was content with either leaving the ball or showing the face of his bat, pushing forward or retreating according to the length of the delivery. Dhawan showed more grit. It was Dhawan though who scored India’s first boundary, rocking back to pull Jason Holder over deep square-leg in the second over. Next over, Murali opened his arms to drive a boundary through gully and point.
For West Indies, while Holder bowled a fuller length, Gabriel decided to pitch it shorter. Dug in short, the one such delivery caught Dhawan by surprise. Next one whizzed past Dhawan’s eyes. Even Murali wasn’t spared but he showed better technique and watched the ball till the last moment. Dhawan was in more discomfort. “I was respecting the good balls and knew that I cannot afford to take a chance because there was extra bounce on the wicket. So I was playing close to my body and was not in a hurry and relaxed at the crease,” said Dhawan.
Ultimately it was Murali who fell first. It was a great delivery, jutting in after pitching and climbing on Vijay before he could even react. Vijay’s replacement Cheteshwar Pujara was possibly the best batsman to negotiate such a situation. Opening his account with the ninth ball he faced, Pujara went on to face two more overs of disciplined pace bowling after Carlos Brathwaite almost got through Dhawan’s gates with an inside edge.Gabriel’s first spell read 4-2-6-1.
Roston Chase finally gave India the much needed recovery period. Dhawan got his breath back, started cutting the ball better as Pujara went about picking singles and downing the shutters when required. Having done the hard work in the first session, Pujara should have ideally attacked more but Devendra Bishoo struck with a bad delivery. Dhawan’s discipline against committing anything rash however kept him afloat.
Among the India batsmen, Dhawan is probably under most pressure to fight for his place. “I think opening is the toughest work and you need a big heart for it,” he said. “As an opener your technique should also be good because you have to leave a lot of balls and you need patience as well. Middle order needs it too but new ball has its own challenge. I am sad about missing the century by few runs but I was sad until I came back to pavilion. But I am also happy that I scored 84 and want to make use of the form I am in.,” he said.