Shikhar Dhawan has admitted to playing with less pressure and enjoying his cricket in the last few months following his exclusion from the national side. The proof of the enjoyment came in his performances in the Deodhar Trophy, a 50-over competition, where he finished as the second-highest run-getter (223 runs in three matches at 74.33) behind Dinesh Karthik.
However, Dhawan’s numbers in the lead up to the Deodhar Trophy hadn’t been nearly as spectacular. In his most recent international assignment, against England in January, he made 1 and 11 in the first two ODIs before being dropped for the final game in Kolkata. He returned to the domestic circuit to regain form, but runs remained elusive initially.
In the Syed Mushtaq Ali inter-zonal T20 tournament, he scored 110 runs in four matches at an average of 27.50, while his aggregate stood at an even less-impressive 99 from five matches in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the national one-day competition.
With few auditions remaining in the 50-over format ahead of India’s title defence of the Champions Trophy in June, Dhawan’s return to form couldn’t have been more opportune. He made a 122-ball 128 against an India A attack comprising Shardul Thakur. Siddarth Kaul and Harbhajan Singh and followed it up with a 50 off 48 balls against Tamil Nadu. He capped things off with a 34-ball 45 in the final, albeit in a losing cause against the TN.
How does he explain the turnaround after five consecutive scores under 30? “ Waqt ne mujhe sahi kar diya (Time has helped sort things out for me),” Dhawan, 31, told ESPNcricinfo ahead of the Deodhar Trophy final. “I didn’t really worry too much about what I needed to do. I just went in and enjoyed myself. I was more relaxed this time. Actually, I enjoyed my cricket more in these [last] few months because there was less pressure on me and I was free.
“Of course, you want to put on partnerships, say a 50-run partnership that will stabilise the team. Once you spend time, the flow starts coming, and I am that kind of batsman who makes runs quickly once I am in the flow.”
The importance of the timing of these knocks, though, weren’t lost on him. “In the tournaments before this, I hadn’t had a good run. I knew that I had to do well to find a place in the Indian team once again,” he said. “So, that was always in the back of my mind. Luckily, the right things happened at the right time, so I am very thankful to god that things have fallen in place.”
Despite averaging 57.40 in ODIs in 2016, Dhawan’s twin-failures against England resulted in him dropped for the final game of the series. That he was given a short shrift was largely down to his poor form in Test matches, where he averaged just 26 last year. Dhawan felt the impact of his low scores in one format was felt in the others.
“When you aren’t in good form, there is always pressure on you to make runs in international cricket regardless of the format,” he said. “If you look at ODIs, I had played only two matches after the Australia series, and then I was dropped from the playing XI. I feel that the flow that is there – like, when I was doing well, I was playing all the three formats. When I wasn’t scoring runs, the flow naturally got affected. It wasn’t as if my ODI record suffered because of those two matches – my records are still very strong. But, the flow that you are in will obviously be a factor.”
Dhawan’s most recent Test came against New Zealand in Kolkata last September where he made 1 and 17. He was stuck on the thumb twice by Trent Boult, with scans subsequently revealing a fracture that ruled him out of the third and final Test in Indore. Despite scoring only one half-century in the 10 innings prior to the Test, Dhawan said there was no sense of relief at being put out of his misery by the injury.
“In fact, I was putting all my efforts into getting back to form,” he said. “I felt very proud of myself for continuing to bat with a fractured hand against New Zealand. I stood there for my team. Playing with a broken hand when I was not among the runs was a very satisfying moment for me. So I cherish it.”
Dhawan said he was happy to see a successful India dressing room, but sad to not be a part of it. “When you go through a rough patch, you will be out of the team, and those who do well will be picked. The selection committee and team management gave me a fair chance but I didn’t perform,” he said. “Whether it is Delhi team or India team, it really doesn’t matter to me – I just want to be in a happy space and make sure people around me are happy.
For me to return to the team, I have to stay positive and happy. That’s the only way I can climb up the ladder again. Of course, I am happy for those who are doing well in India, but I want to return to the Indian team because I know I have got the ability to play international cricket for a long time. [Right now] I want to keep performing well in the IPL as well and try to win another IPL title for Sunrisers Hyderabad.”
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun
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