On Wednesday morning, Shikhar Dhawan returned to his alma mater in Meera Bagh in New Delhi to fine-tune his technique and get into rhythm ahead of the New Zealand tour.
The left-handed opener batted on a cement track as trainee bowlers hurled heavy plastic balls at him.
“These balls swing a lot and also come at pace,” said his long-time coach Madan Sharma, who organised the nets which lasted for close to 45 minutes.
The idea was pretty clear. After failing to get runs in South Africa, Shikhar was trying to get ready for both pace and swing in the seaming and windy conditions expected in New Zealand.
While the India team flew back home after the South Africa tour last week, Shikhar travelled to Australia to unwind with his wife and children. He reached Delhi late on Tuesday night but was up early for the nets.
Last year, right after his success in the Champions Trophy, coach Sharma had expected him to not be as free-flowing in the West Indies as he had been on truer tracks in England, primarily because the wickets would be spongy.
It proved right as Shikhar couldn’t get his timing right. South Africa was expected to be fruitful because the wickets would suit him.
Before the tour began, Shikhar had said the bouncy and true South African tracks would be to his advantage, allowing him to play his strokes freely.
However, while the other opener Murali Vijay churned out a couple of resilient and impressive innings, Shikhar’s lack of runs was a rare negative for India batting.
The man who started his Test career with a bang, making 187 on top of the fastest century by a debutant, has not got a fifty in his next six innings.
The spongy nature of the Test wickets and the relatively high bounce extracted on them by Steyn and Co throughout the ODIs and Tests in the early overs didn’t let him go ahead with his attacking strokes.
On a few occasions, it was his bread and butter square cut and pull shots that let him down.
Shikhar feels he wasn’t out of form. He managed to get good starts but somehow he got good deliveries. South Africa bowlers used the seam to cut the ball and that kept him guessing.
When he managed to drop anchor and saw off the difficult times as in the final Test innings in Durban, he was snared by a brilliant catch from Faf du Plessis.
But luck and good bowling aside, he did make mistakes. In the first One-day International, he fell trying to pull a bouncer from Morne Morkel.
The Proteas got an idea of his weakness and tested him with it in the first Test.
This time he fell to a short one from Steyn.
“It was clear they were targeting him with short balls, he could have been a bit more watchful,” says Sharma. “Eventually, he tried to be watchful in Durban but then that du Plessis catch happened.”
New Zealand is going to be very crucial for him. Another failure and a resurgent Gautam Gambhir could well be breathing down his neck.