February 23, 2015 1:10:02 am
A few years ago, Shikhar Dhawan fell for a girl from Melbourne whose picture he saw while surfing the internet. She would go on to be his Facebook friend, wife and, early last year, the mother of his child. Melbourne, by default, would become his second home. On Sunday, Dhawan cemented his bond with the city where he found love. (Full Coverage| Venues | Fixtures)
He scored his highest ODI score while playing probably the most entertaining innings of his career. His 137 from 146 balls gave India its second win of the tournament, the first over South Africa in a World Cup. Without doubt, at MCG, it was the day of the non-resident Melbournian.
Ten years after he was named the Player of the Tournament in the under-19 World Cup, Dhawan was making his presence felt at the Big Boys’ Battle. With his hundred here coming at the back of his 73 against Pakistan, Dhawan’s Cup tally moved to 210 — that’s four times the runs he scored in the entire tri-series last month.
The batsman, whose struggles on bouncy tracks make for a popular topic of derisive discussions on fan forums, among expert panels and around office coffee dispensers, was here, getting an image makeover. It’s not that the Harley-driving, moustache twirling dude, who answers to the names of ‘Jaatji’ in Delhi and ‘Gabbar’ outside, had changed his ways. He still takes his chances, gets dropped — today when he was on 58 —and is his usual flashy self; but the weight of his runs has sunk the pre-World Cup uncertainty about the Indian openers.
It’s not that the bowlers aren’t testing the opener, notorious for his short-ball issues. Just that he seems to have found a way to deal with the expected line of questioning. In his very second over, South Africa’s interrogator-in-chief, Dale Steyn, would unleash a wicked ball that would leap at Dhawan’s neck from outside off. He would fumble but somehow manage to keep it away from a catcher. The ball would drop near him, Dhawan would look relieved. “Survived, but we will get him with the short ball soon,” the South Africans would have thought.
The grilling would ease as Steyn and Vernon Philander would end their opening spells. The arrival of slow bowlers — part-timer JP Duminy and specialist Imran Tahir — would see Dhawan get light on his feet and move around the crease better. So when Morne Morkel would ask him the same ‘tough question’ that Steyn surprised him with, Dhawan would have a more convincing reply. He would meet the Morkel short ball in front of his eyes and his pull shot would send the ball over the mid-wicket fence.
Later when the much slower and lesser disciplined Wayne Parnell attempted to make the oft-repeated inquiry, Dhawan ridiculed South Africa’s insistence on bowling short to him. He had a smirk on his face after he had helped the Parnell short ball over the wicket-keeper’s head. Next ball, Parnell bowled full and this time Dhawan’s thundering drive would send the ball racing between the bowler and the mid-off fielder. In the dugout, coaches Alan Donald and Gary Kirsten would have shredded the sheets with ‘bowling plans’ written on them.
South African’s Plan A, and B, had failed. As for Dhawan everything was working for him. He would step towards the off stump and guide a Tahir delivery to the fine leg fence. Later he would play the same shot to Morkel, the speed of the ball would help it sail over the fence. That was to be Dhawan’s last big stroke of the day.
Intriguingly, the hero of the day would eventually fall to a short ball. While trying to hook the ball that was flying high over the stumps, Dhawan would mishit the ball and get caught at fine leg. There was a frustrating familiarity about the dismissal but the freshness of Dhawan’s knock was too overpowering even as he lorded over Melbourne, his ‘home’.
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