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On March 16, 2013, Shikhar Dhawan announced his arrival by smashing 185 in one day against Australia. On Test debut, Dhawan replaced Virender Sehwag and smashed the fastest ton for a debutant. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at Dhawan’s remarkable knock.
When Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag were in top form, they dominated world cricket and sparked India’s rise to the No 1 spot in the Test rankings. In putting up those opening stands, they were dominant, with Sehwag redefining the top slot in Test cricket. However, in the aftermath of the 2011 World Cup, India sped down a slippery slope and were humiliated overseas. The once dominant opening stand was now struggling, cutting a sorry picture. Thus, when Australia arrived in early 2013, India braced for a change and axed Gautam Gambhir. It was a sign of things to come.
Meanwhile, India clung on to hope with Sehwag, for he could get back anytime. However, his experiment with the spectacles failed and after two poor Tests, India took the brave move of blooding in his statemate Shikhar Dhawan for the third Test at Mohali. In a matter of three games, India had two new openers. While Murali Vijay had proved his mettle with a ton at Hyderabad, there was some skepticism when the left-handed Dhawan walked in. But, what unfolded was sheer carnage.
The Test was to begin on March 14, but Day One was washed out due to rain. On Day Two, Australia won the toss and chose to bat, amassing 273 for seven. Early on March 16 i.e. Day Three, Mitchell Starc smashed 99 to power Australia to 408. A team that was trailing 0-2 in the series was showing some spike after all. Amidst some interest, Dhawan and Vijay walked out to bat.
Dhawan took strike to Starc and pushed his second delivery to the off-side for a single to get off the mark. Two years ago, in October 2010, he was bowled for a duck on One-Day International (ODI) against the same opposition. Certainly, he didn’t want the same fate in the whites. Vijay came across to congratulate him. Two years ago, he was at the other end when Dhawan lost his stumps to Clint McKay in the first over.
Getting the first run was a huge sense of relief for Dhawan. In the next over, he pushed Peter Siddle past cover for a four. There was timing and good footwork on that one. With that confidence, Dhawan was ready to pounce on any opportunity. When any bowler pitched it short, he was in position and would smash it with the horizontal bat. Starc found that out when he tried to get it near his chin! For sometime, that was the script. If it was overpitched, he drove it with all grace and if it was short, he pulled with conviction. There was an edge when he attempted a drive, but with his stars in place, it went through the slip cordon.
And, to show that there were more strokes in his repertoire, he charged against Moises Henriques and merely pushed him through the covers. India had raced to 50 in quick time; Vijay was a spectator at the other end watching his junior partner take charge. The pacers weren’t doing their job. Michael Clarke decided to take some pace off the ball and brought Xavier Doherty in. Dhawan was in the mood and it didn’t matter who came on. There was a short cover and a mid-off, yet he drove Doherty with precision between that gap. On 49, he drove Nathan Lyon down the ground and the both the fielders, from mid-on and mid-off put in their drives, but the timing was just too good. India were on 70 — 53 of those came off Dhawan’s blazing willow! It had taken him only 50 balls to get to the milestone.
Now, Dhawan set his sights on the next milestone. It went past in a daze; Clarke would vouch for that. Charging to the spinners, driving the pacers, Dhawan motored along. Then, he also unleashed his cheeky side. Doherty was reverse-swept very fine for four. And he was later swept as well, just to exhibit his range. But, the shots that stood out were those he smacked through the off-side. Clarke had men placed close in and on the boundary. Doherty was perplexed, Dhawan was unstoppable. With the trademark push of Starc, Dhawan entered the 90s.
On 94, Dhawan flayed at an overpitched delivery from Siddle, but it only flew through the slips. Phil Hughes had dived across from gully, and couldn’t quite get his palms around it. Then on 99, he defended one from Siddle towards the off-side and sprinted across even as the fielder came in. The fielder darted it towards the stumps at the non-striker’s end. Dhawan put in a desperate dive as he made it to his ton. Immediately, he got up and put his arms in the air with the helmet and bat raised high. Little did he realize that the ball had gone through for five overthrows! By getting to his ton off 85 balls, he had become the fastest centurion on Test debut. India were 148 for no loss then; Vijay went unnoticed at the other end although he had smashed Lyon for two sixes earlier.
After his ton, Dhawan continued his charge, although he did slow town, only marginally! He got his first six by dancing down the track to Lyon and lofting him over his head for six. He moved to his 150 off 131 deliveries, continuing to pull and drive with ease. Now, he was also placing a few behind point. That carnage continued through to the end of day’s play as Dhawan finished on 185. Interestingly, he played out the last over. Vijay had quietly worked his way to 83 as India ended the day on 283 for no loss. A star was born they said! Sehwag’s successor had shown the same fearlessness in his strokeplay.
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