In searing heat, on his way to the venue for a crucial match, Shikhar Dhawan came down with a flat tyre and he had no option but to walk the rest of the way. So, he walked, and ran, pushing the two-wheeler along, and managed to reach, sweating and panting, just in time to make it to the playing XI. The distance covered was a good five kilometres. The effort reflected his passion and perseverance for cricket.
Dhawan is a part of the west Delhi cricket factory. “It is a cricket factory. So many have played for India, and so many for Delhi,” is how veteran coach Sharvan Kumar refers to players from this part of the Capital.
The list is impressive — Raman Lamba, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, K.P. Bhaskar, Atul Wassan, Amit Mishra, Ashish Nehra, Ishant Sharma, Gautam Gambhir, Aakash Chopra, all from west Delhi or areas close to it.
Dhawan, living in Vikaspuri, went to Sonnet Club which held its nets at the nearby Rajdhani College. “Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done if not for cricket. My day would begin with plans to play as much (tennis ball matches) as possible,” recalled Dhawan.
He hated if it rained because it would ruin his training schedule at St. Mark’s School in Meera Bagh, Paschim Vihar.
St. Mark’s is not really known for cricket. But the school has a wonderful cricket facility, hiding behind its facade.
Madan Sharma, the coach at St. Mark’s, was initially engaged at the Sonnet Club, which had shifted to Venkateshwara College from Rajdhani College. Tarak Sinha was the head coach at Sonnet when Dhawan came with a request to be enrolled.
Fondly called ‘Gabbar’, after the character from Sholay, he hardly fits the image of the dacoit played so menacingly by Amjad Khan.
During a Ranji match, the fielders around the batsmen looked aimless.
“We were, in fact, sleepy because there was hardly any activity. The batsmen were just blocking the ball and it had become very boring in the middle,” recalled Mayank Tehlan, who had been Dhawan’s roommate since junior days.
“The stillness was broken by Shikhar, who shouted, Suuar ke bachchon (sons of swine), a Gabbar dialogue from Sholay. Everyone, including the batsmen, burst out laughing and Shikhar had acquired a nickname.
His Test debut, against Australia at Mohali in 2013, was sensational. Silken drives flowed from his bat and it was a century that came in for praise from the likes of Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath. On the evening of the Test century, Viswanath, in all humility, sought Dhawan’s number from this reporter to congratulate the batsman. When informed of Viswanath’s wish, Dhawan requested not to share his number with the batting legend.
“You please give me his number. Once I have spoken to him I shall alert you and then you may send him my number,” Dhawan showed his reverence to a senior. He kept his word but Viswanath saw through the game when he was texted Dhawan’s number.
Dhawan is indebted to Sinha and Madan Sharma, who gave personal attention for years, organising his match and practice schedules. Madan was strict too, having learnt the trait from Sinha, who monitored the progress of the left-hander.
There were a few occasions when Dhawan received a resounding slap or two from Sharma, who was not willing to pardon dismissals to irresponsible shots.
Childhood friend Sagar Gaind talks of Dhawan as a down-to-earth person. “He is a good human being. He can be your best critic and ruthlessly honest because he attaches no filters when giving his opinion. We have had a good share of incidents to laugh out like wearing helmets while driving cars on the ring road or wearing funny masks going to movie theatres and shopping malls.”
Dhawan knows how to stay grounded. “I do a lot of meditation and mind training. I am also learning to play the flute. Music can be soothing influence. I have come to realise that there is life outside cricket,”
Many years after he had pushed his Bajaj Sunny to a local cricket match, Dhawan rode to the Ferozeshah Kotla on a Hayabusa. Hard work had put him on the fast lane of international cricket and he is now a key member of India’s campaign to regain the World Cup.
Dhawan’s success would be critical to the team’s mission.