Much before Shikhar Dhawan walked into the press conference room — a confirmation of his Test debut lest, god forbid, a freak injury — the hunch that he is the likeliest to partner Murali Vijay at the top was strong enough. The nets provided a further approbation, as he had an extended session first-up much before his competitor for the opener’s slot, Ajinkya Rahane even padded up.
The body language was too perceptible to fail, as he studiously faced the fast bowlers, often asking them to bowl a particular line or length he wanted to practice against. Hence, Bhuvneshwar Kumar was asked to bowl further up and Ishant Sharma to bowl shorter. Nearly, an hour and a half, he tramped away, sweat-soaked and expended. But the satisfactory grimace was a certain giveaway as to who was given the go-ahead, he or Rahane.
His inclusion ahead of Rahane would spark debates. Whether he is competent enough to replace Virender Sehwag has already started its customary rounds. None though could point a finger at his domestic credentials — a tally of 5679 runs at 45.79 in 81 matches. Though his numbers pale in comparison to Rahane’s plus-sixty aggregate, few openers in the domestic circuit have toiled as much as Dhawan.
Like Cheteshwar Pujara, and ironically like Rahane, he has reinforced faith in the domestic structure. Nine years of domestic grind, with little reward than ODI call-up, Dhawan reckons he has accumulated the requisites to flourish in the longest version at the highest level. “I have matured over these years. I am more patient and focused now. I have scored runs on all kinds of surfaces, especially in the north where we have a few green wickets. So that has given me a lot of confidence,” he said.
One half of the association that has replaced India’s most successful opening alliance of Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, he confides to nerves, but at the same time maintains he would put the best stride forward. “They (Sehwag and Gambhir) are legends. But they built everything not on a single day. They did well over a long period of time. So Vijay and me would try to emulate that,” he said.
On the back of his most successful domestic season (833 at 55.53), Dhawan was chosen the back-up opener for the series, and in the two Tests he didn’t play he has been interacting with Sehwag and observing Sachin Tendulkar. “In the last two games Viru played, I have spoken to him, tried to learn from him. I have observed all the batsmen, especially Sachin, the little things that they do even in the nets,” he said.
Now that he has almost achieved his long-sought dream, he believes it’s time he started aiming higher.