In a Ranji match three years ago, Delhi had made a solid start thanks to Shikhar Dhawan and Unmukt Chand. After play, the media were keener to talk to Chand, the new glamour boy who had just led the team to the U-19 World Cup. Shikhar, with a typical smile, took it in his stride.The batsman knows only too well how it is to live in the shadow of teammates. As opening batsman in a Delhi team dominated by Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, the pecking order was clear. But there were two things common between Sehwag and Shikhar. The first was the confidence, and ability to tear apart bowling attacks. The second was the patience one needs to negotiate the Capital's often chaotic traffic to cover long distances to reach the training ground.
Former India pacer Ashish Nehra used to wait for Sehwag to reach from far-flung Najafgarh to give him a lift in his scooter to Ferozeshah Kotla. For Shikhar, the roles were reversed in 1997-98. The youngster, on a black scooty borrowed from his sister, would ride all the way from Vikaspuri in west Delhi to the Kotla. He would wait at the Raja Garden traffic signal to pick up his close friend, Abhishek Sharma, a former Delhi bowler.
With kit bag placed upright in the narrow space for the rider's foot rest, he would wait as Abhishek would climb on, lugging his heavy kit bag. It was almost a daily routine as they bumped into other vehicles, or at times even struggled to balance the two-wheeler. Regardless of minor dents to it or bruises in his arms or elbows, Shikhar would always hit the nets with gusto. The demanding 20 km trip reflected the determination to make it in the game he loved.
"I played my entire junior cricket with him. We played together for Delhi and in the U-19 World Cup," says Abhishek Sharma.
Shikhar's career has been about getting knocked down, but always getting up. "Failures don't affect Shikhar," says Abhishek Sharma. "He was dropped from age-group teams and the Ranji squad a number of times and had to wait almost six years after his first-class debut to play for India. All this made him mentally very strong."
Delhi cricket officials got the first glimpse of Shikhar's attacking abilities during a sub-junior tournament final at Delhi's Rajdhani College ground, where he scored a century for the prominent club, Sonnet.
The son of a businessman who manufactured water jugs, his serious coaching had begun in 1996. Former Test umpire Ram Babu Gupta took him to seasoned coach Tarak Sinha, who ran Sonnet. The boy was then more cautious but hit out at times, but there was power in his shots. Madan Sharma, then an assistant coach in Sinha's academy, guided Shikhar as well as many other juniors. He was also coach of St. Marks Public School, Meera Bagh, where Shikhar studied. The coach and the batsman moved out of Sonnet later.
In 1998-99, Shikhar played in the Under-16 Vijay Merchant Trophy for Delhi but flopped in two matches and was axed. A year later, he returned with a bang and was included for the BCCI's U-17 tournament. He made 199 against Hyderabad and 136 against Orissa. However, it was the 2004 U-19 World Cup in Bangladesh that raised his profile at the national level. He scored 505 runs with three centuries to be named the batsman of the tournament.
"The U-19 World Cup was the turning point. The same year, he played in the Challengers. He and MS Dhoni made hundreds in the same match. Dhoni was picked for India. He once acknowledged this in public," recalls Madan Sharma.
On his one-day debut against Australia in Visakhapatnam in 2010, the second ball the left-handed batsman faced sneaked in between bat and pad to knock back his off-stump. A duck on debut was not a good sign, but three years later at Mohali, Shikhar played his first Test against the same opponents and hammered the fastest century by a debutant, going on to hit a match-winning 187. He had bounced back.
His current struggles in Australia are having an impact in the drawing room of his Vikaspuri Self-Financed Scheme home. Says his mother, Sunaina: "My elder daughter, Shrestha, is disturbed Shikhar is not doing well. Every time he has got out, she asks me 'mamma kya hoga? Pata nahi kya ho gaya hai iske batting ko!' (What will happen? Don't know what has happened to his batting) I tell her if he is getting out to a good ball, the bowler also deserves credit. But my son has been a fighter since childhood. I'm sure he will improve."So far, this tour has been about misses. A comeback in the World Cup will be par for the course for the batsman.