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Shikhar Dhawan: Champions Trophy: Uncomplicated Shikhar Dhawan making it count

LONDON: Modern Indian cricketers aren’t too attuned to the game’s history. They rely, instead, on a natural, learn-as-you-go process to develop both their game and worldview.

So when Virat Kohli was asked a day before the game against South Africa what the Oval meant to him, there was not even a passing mention of the landmark 1971 Test, forget 1979, when Sunil Gavaskar nearly pulled off a heist, or the relatively recent Rahul Dravid double.

Kohli was, instead, very much clued into the present limited-overs scenario, saying, “The two games that are very special for Indian cricket would be the seven-match series we had here and Robin (Uthappa) getting us across the line (in 2007; Kohli wasn’t a part of those games).

“And then against West Indies in the Champions Trophy back in the day when Shikhar (Dhawan) got a hundred and we chased a total down. So those two memories are very special for Indian cricket at the Oval.”

While Robin Uthappa isn’t a part of this Champions Trophy team, it’s instructive the captain remembered Dhawan’s knock among all others. The left-handed opener’s significance in India’s One-day scheme of things cannot be overstated.

The team management is always willing to give Dhawan the benefit of doubt when he is off-colour. They seem to know thing or two about the Delhi cricketer’s ability to raise his game in multi-team ODI events.

“Back in the day” too, Dhawan, seemingly cavalier, always confident, attractive with his strokeplay when he gets going, possessed the rare ability to bring his A-game to ICC events, like he did in the 2004 Under-19 World Cup, scoring three centuries in seven innings and averaging 84.16.

In the game Kohli mentioned, Dhawan had scored an unbeaten 102 off 107 balls. He seems to have carried on in this edition from where he left off in the 2013 Champions Trophy, when he was Man of the Series, averaging 90.75 at slightly more than a run-a-ball strike rate and scoring two hundreds in five innings. Or even the 2015 World Cup, when he was the highest run-getter for India.

Impressively, he has the best all-time average when it comes to World Cups and Champions Trophies combined, averaging 69.73 with five hundreds and four fifties, putting him well above Saeed Anwar and Vivian Richards at No.1 on the list.

Then there’s the special England connection: Dhawan always seems to do well on English pitches, the best by far, actually. Among batsmen with at least 500 ODI runs on English soil, Dhawan has the best average of 78.90, well above Vivian Richards’ 64.04. Dhawan has played 12 games as compared to Viv’s 31.

This time around, he has been central to India’s plans of consolidating up the order and setting the platform for a late surge: even a trademark century against Sri Lanka wasn’t enough for India to sail through, though his assurance ensured no hiccups in the small chase against South Africa. As usual, Dhawan is heading the batting charts, and just became the fastest to 1000 runs in 50-over ICC events, achieving the feat in 16 innings compared to Sachin Tendulkar’s 18.

“The way Shikhar is batting was really great to see,” Kohli said after the win over South Africa. “To have him play his natural game, play free cricket, get boundaries regularly, that really eases the situation out for the whole team. I’m glad he’s backing himself.” Dhawan’s seemingly happy-go lucky demeanour hides a steely resolve. It’s easy to forget he scored the fastest Test century by a debutant after nine years of exile on the domestic circuit, during which he had been completely written off as an international prospect. He seems in no hurry to return to those days. If Dhawan’s timing clicks for another two games, Kohli will have new landmarks at the Oval to celebrate.

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