New Delhi: The journey of Shikhar Dhawan into international cricket and making it big has been no less than a miracle. Drafted into the national team because of the dip in form of the formidable opening pair of Virender Sehwag-Gautam Gambhir, Dhawan made his first impression count, stroking his way to a huge score of 187 at better than run-a-ball, flaunting style, essaying composure, appearing unfazed by the famed Australian bowling line-up. The arms were raised, the moustache was twirled. Shikhar Dhawan had arrived.
As the flamboyant left-hander turned 30 on Saturday, here's a look at his top five innings so far in international cricket, including the sensational knock on Test debut. Dhawan has four centuries from 18 Tests and eight from 69 ODIs.
187 (174): India v Australia, 3rd Test, Border-Gavaskar Trophy (2012-13)
Shikhar Dhawan walked out to open the innings in hot, sunny conditions at the PCA Stadium in Mohali with Murali Vijay. At the bowling end was Mitchell Starc, known to trouble batsmen with his rising deliveries and the one that cuts back in sharply. The scoreboard read Australia 408 all out. There was a chatter in the commentary box about 'young' Dhawan facing a test of his nerves. A few minutes into play, and the commentators had replaced 'young' with 'first class experience'.
Dhawn did not look troubled from the word go. He played shots all around the park. His wagon wheel seemed to represent one of the better-known left-handers of world-cricket, the likes of Matthew Hayden and Brian Lara. The Australians tried everything, but Dhawan was clearly a man on a mission. He hit 33 fours and two sixes before Australia could see his back. By that time, India were well into the game, eventually going on to win it.
As Dhawan reached the magical three-figure mark, his face beamed with the joy of a little child having hit his first boundary, but then flamboyance took over, as he raised his arms in a stylish manner to acknowledge the crowd. The wait was over. Dhawan was here to stay.
Dhawan's 187 off 174 balls is the fastest Test century by a debutant. Another left-hander, by the name of Sourav Ganguly had a dream debut and went on to become one of the most successful captains of the Indian cricket team. We hope Dhawan follows similar footsteps!
137 (146): India v South Africa, ICC Cricket World Cup (Feb 22, 2015)
Shikhar Dhawan's grand statement on Test debut paved the way to turn up for the national team in the limited overs format. Dhawan repayed the confidence of the selectors by slamming a career-best 137 against South Africa in a Pool B encounter, helping win defeat the Proteas for the first time ever in a World Cup match.
Dhawan had ample help from an uncharacteristic South African fielding side, getting dropped on 53 and frequent overthrows allowing him to convert risky singles into easy twos. During his course of stay at the pitch, he stitched two 100-plus partnerships, first with Virat Kohli, and then with Ajinkya Rahane, the latter coming at a rapid pace as India eclipsed the 300-run mark. Dhawan hit 16 fours and hit two massive sixes to dent South Africa's morale.
Shikhar Dhawan celebrates after scoring a century at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) against South Africa. (AFP PHOTO)
134 (271) India v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Galle (2015 tour)
Dhawan, now having become the first-choice as opener for the Indian cricket team, flourished in Sri Lanka as well, under the leadership of newly appointed Test captain Virat Kohli. Coming in to bat after having dismissed hosts Sri Lanka for a paltry 183, Dhawan adapted to the difficult pitch beautifully, with none of the Sri Lankan bowlers finding a way to get him out. He went on to score a well-compiled hundred, ably assisted by skipper Kohli. This was not an innings of mere flamboyance, but a display of proper cricketing shots, good judgement and solid temperament, all the prerequisites of a top Test match player.
Incidentally, this was Dhawan's second consecutive ton and fourth overall in Tests.
Shikhar Dhawan meets the ball with the full face of the bat during his fine knock of 134 against Sri Lanka at Galle, August 13, 2015. (AFP Photo)
119 (95): India v West Indies, 3rd ODI, Kanpur (2013-14 season)
A match that was meant to be played as a decider was tuned into a one-sided contest once Shikhar Dhawan came out to bat. Riding on a glorious form in the 2013-14 season, Dhawan blasted 20 fours to race to a hundred at better than run-a-ball, leaving the West Indies bowlers clueless about where to bowl to the marauding left-hander.
Dhawan's 119 was his fifth century in ODI cricket, and was highlighted by perfectly timed cuts and drives through the off side for boundaries. He stitched a 129-run partnership with Yuvraj Singh to snatch the game away from the West Indies, who had set India a target of 263.
Shikhar Dhawan celebrates in trademark style after reaching to a hundred against the West Indies at Kanpur on 27 November, 2013. (AFP Photo)
114 (94): India v South Africa, ICC Champions Trophy (6 June, 2013)
This was Dhawan's maiden century knock in the 50-over format of the game, and he notched it up in remarkable style, tearing apart the South African bowlers in Cardiff, where the ball is expected to rise after pitching and produce lateral movement. Dhawan looked in no trouble at all and appeared to bat as if continuing from where he had left in his Test debut. There was no shot in anger, only immaculate placement and precise timing. Together with Rohit Sharma, Dhawan helped India post 331 which proved too many for South Africa to chase. The left-hander was especially aggressive off the bowling of pacemen Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Rory Kleinveldt, both of whom tried to bowl short in a vain attempt to make him feel uncomfortable.
Shikhar Dhawan was not bogged down by the cold climate at Cardiff and his shots to the fence definitely heated up things in the middle. (AFP Photo)