Shikhar Dhawan scored a cracking 117 against the Aussies in India’s crucial second match in the ongoing ICC cricket World Cup at The Oval on June 9. And just when we thought the Virat Kohli-led men in blue have found the perfect opening combination, here comes the dampener: the maverick batsman has been ruled out of the World Cup for three weeks after a Pat Cummins-delivery fractured his thumb during his match- winning knock.
THE MAN joins millions of Dhawan’s fans in wishing him a speedy recovery, and return to the team to help india lift the World Cup for a third time: after KAPIL’s devils in 1983 and MS Dhoni's team in 2011.
Before the team left India for England, he spent a day with THE MAN to shoot the cover for our June issue.
Shikhar Dhawan is variously known as aggressive and a swashbuckler. Meet him and he disarms with the charm. Positive energy and focus are words that define him. The purple patch in his career (he's fresh from a whopping 521 runs for Delhi Capitals in the recently-concluded IPL, including a match-winning knock of 97 not out against Kolkata Knight Riders), the opener says, is just another phase.
Do cricketers need an introduction in a cricket-mad country? Perhaps not, but there's a desire to know them more. Dhawan, who has a strike rate of 93.48, radiates positive energy. He puts on his best face at THE MAN cover photoshoot, and as the day wears on, the bright smile doesn't falter one bit. That's Shikhar Dhawan! He has a smile and a word for everyone: A slap on the back, an impromptu joke, a burst of laughter... a point made in his inimitable style. The nation's hopes ride on this opening batsman and his teammates in the World Cup. But the pressure doesn't get to him. Dhawan is calm and ready. "Of course, I'm prepared. It's what I do. I don't think about stress. If I think it, I will attract it. So why be stressed?” he says.
After all, the 33-year-old does have an enviable record in ICC events. Dhawan was the tournament top run-scorer in the 2013 and 2017 Champions Trophy events, as well India's highest run-scorer in the 2015 World Cup.
After a gruelling IPL season, his body needs to relax, but he knows he cannot drop his exercise regimen to keep in shape. There is a balanced approach, and he calls it "smart training": "More reps when prepping for a series and less when he's not. So the strength remains and there is less stress on the body."
But the World Cup is a biggie. Dhawan says he's in top form. “Yeah. When I reach England, two practice matches and I'll be ready to take 'em on.” And what about his otherwise impressive IPL campaign? “The shot selection (could have been better). I rushed the balls. I could have played slower.” He does not agree that the long hours of training could all go waste in one misjudged ball on the pitch. “When I practise for correction, I will orient certain moves, reverse sweep or whatever else, maybe hundred times or more. You create instinct, you work at it, and then there's muscle memory. I will not make a move that I did not practise.” An old hand now, he is confident of his game. “I know I can score runs. I'm also prepared to be out. I go with the flow. I believe in energy.” He partners well with Rohit Sharma, India's other batting mainstay. “Rohit and I have come a long way. With others as well. Virat and I also partner well,” he says. Complementing each other's game changes from day to day, in a dynamic and changing jugalbandi. “Some days, Rohit plays fast and I'm slower. That balances. One person plays fast and the other less so.”
Any extra preparation for the big summer in England? “You can't stop doing anything in between matches,” he says. “It's all about balance. Maybe I won't be in the gym for three hours, maybe it'll be for less. Maybe I'll break it up and not push myself in a single session. There's intensity in my play. Personally, my energy is high. Whatever I do, I give it my all to get into a certain zone.” He's surprised at being described as aggressive. “Intense, you mean? There's intensity in my play for sure. There has to be. Personally, my energy is high.”
Besides touching the ground when he enters the field, Dhawan has no other ritual or superstition. He is deeply spiritual though. Among the many tattoos he sports, there's one of Shiva on his arm. The zen-like calm is there in his eyes and in his body language, stemming from an inherent and unwavering faith. “When things don't go right, you ask yourself questions," he says. "I had played my best, had given it my all and yet I wasn't selected for India's Australia series in 2018. I could have allowed myself to wallow in negativity. You have to stay positive. Whatever has to happen will happen. It's not always for the best. But something will most definitely happen. What I do is remain positive. What's the point of being unhappy?”
Perhaps, he's one of those fortunate people born with a happy disposition. He concedes the suggestion with a shrug. “When I was having those internal conversations, I told myself that I must remain positive. You have to work at it, I guess. Also, I think I have always been a bit spiritual. I would go to the gurudwara with my mother as a child."
It's because of this acceptance that he doesn't bat an eyelid even when he gets out for a duck. “There's a moment of regret, a very tiny moment, but then it is not intentional. Who wants to get out without a single run? We are there to make runs! But then, in the next game I go and hit 97. That's a part of playing, what the game is all about.”
Cricket was not the driving passion of his life in his growing years in West Delhi. He played football and karate with equal zeal. This might have continued until a coach told him to pick one sport and stick to it. Just like that he chose cricket. And India got an opener who can unsettle the best bowlers in the world. That taught him a crucial lesson—to remain focused. One of his tattoos even has Arjun from the Mahabharat, famed for his focus that made him the greatest archer of his time.
And Dhawan of the light-hearted banter and witty one-liners pauses suddenly. “How did we get this serious?” he asks. The introspective, reflective mood is shattered when a friend interrupts our conversation. The affable nature resurfaces and he becomes another person in a flash.
Dhawan later reveals how he met his wife, Aesha. “I met her on Facebook. I was interested in this woman who was a boxer and sent her a friend request. She didn't respond immediately and I forgot about her,” he says. When she did answer, it took him a while to remember who she was, he confesses with a smile.
The chats with Aesha started and there was an instant vibe. He tells the story of a time, during those early heady days, when he once chatted with her on the phone as he waited for a flight at the Dhaka airport. He soon lost track of time. When he surfaced from the chat, he wondered why there was no call to board and found he'd missed the boarding announcement and missed the flight. “And I'd got there three hours early!” he recalls with a chuckle. It was a good several months before they actually met. “I asked her to come and meet me and she did, all the way from Melbourne.”
For many women, that might already be a commitment. But there were hurdles to cross. His parents could not understand why he wanted to marry a divorced woman with two children. “You know what I mean,” he says.
Dhawan, however, was sure and had made up his mind. So, he and Aesha waited until they came around. Now, many years into the marriage, he says she changed him in some ways. “I was always this Punjabi kid who could never say no to anyone. But she taught me it's okay not to be so self-effacing.” As a child, Dhawan used to get the occasional whack from his parents — once for sneaking out of the house when he was on curfew, by tying his sister's duppattas into a rope and slipping out of the window. He doesn't believe in raising a hand on his five-year-old son.
But Dhawan says he would never hit his son. “That's a sign of your own weakness. There are other ways to discipline a child. The first is to tell him clearly what is not acceptable. And then of course, there's the naughty corner.” He lightens up again. “But yaar, I'm with him for such short stints, how can I punish him at all? I leave all that to his mother,” he says.
Long distance parenting and marriage, where one partner is travelling constantly, is not the strain one reads about in similar cases. “Husband and wife need to be friends. Without that, there's nothing. There has to be a connect. If you establish that, life can be bliss. We are both very strong. We want it to work. It's about focus and staying positive. You have to bring positive energy to it.” Those are words he's claimed for himself to an extent where they permeate every aspect of his life.
This tough cricketer, this son of Punjab, has another side to him. “I'm a softie inside,” he says with a wide grin. He plays the flute, had formal lessons for it and plays classical music. “I thought I'd teach myself a new skill in my free time, instead of wasting it.” And he loves poetry, too.
Dhawan says he enjoys looking his best but does not spend too much time thinking about it. “Most of all, a person has to be comfortable with what he has on and I know I can carry off whatever I'm wearing. I just go with the mood and pull on something. Sometimes it's fun stuff.”
Is the shaved head not a style statement then? “No, nothing like that all,” he says. “My hair was like ropes, so I cut it short and then shaved it. I liked the look and find it suits me. I'm not making a statement.”
The tattoos, though, suggest a sort of daredevilry. “The first was a bicchhu (scorpion) by a tattoowala by the roadside. There's a tribal sign, Baba Deep Singh, a great warrior and sewakdar.” He extends his arms and legs, pointing out the different ones. “With age, thoughts change and tattoos change too. They are addictive, you never know when you'll want one again. I don't think I'm done with them yet. Who knows?”
He's also a businessman. DaOne (that's how foreigners pronounce his name) is a store of furnishings and interior design. “I wanted to do something different and realised I have a good eye. The look is a fusion of Indian and Western.” This is the first of other things. “Let's see,” he says unwilling to reveal his plans. “I love horses, so perhaps something with horses.” That's in keeping with his love for animals. He has dogs in Delhi and Melbourne.
The love for four-legged creatures extends to another aspect of his life. He's turned vegetarian. But it wasn't exactly his love for them that triggered his decision. “Jaisa ann vaisa mann (as the food, so the mind),” he quips. “Energy moves faster than anything. Matter comes later. If you kill an animal, helplessness, anger, fear from the animal get transferred to me. Somewhere, I began to think I was attracting all this negative energy from the animals who died and came to my plate. And I don't want anything negative in my life if I can help it. This is under my control. Positive energy keeps me healthy and happy.”
Inside the mind of a team player
Advice for youngsters
Give your best, stay focussed
Best comedian in the team?
Me. Virat and I are very haazir jawab
Yuvi, Gilchrist, Hayden (so many of them....) My Mama (maternal uncle) has a khula dil, he's very large-hearted. He's always helping others, always being a man, not in a cocky sense but in a more serious way... in the way a man should be. I have learned acceptance from my father. Koi nahi...it'll be all right, he always says
Mumbai, Bangalore, Melbourne
Two things. One is: Overcoming a negative mindset when the ball is coming towards you at 150kmph that it should not hit you. You have to play fearlessly. Secondly, when the wicket is grassy and turning
Depends on the wicket — Mitchell Starc, Rabada, Ashwin, Nathan Lyon
Most challenging game?
England test matches are the most challenging for me
IPL rivals to teammates in the national team
When we have to defeat each other, we do. After that we are friends, we all know each other so well. There's absolutely no rivalry off the field, all that is only on the field. Rivalry is limited to the match, and after so many years together, friendship doesn't break so easily
Favourite destination for a team-only holiday?
I wouldn't go anywhere. After 200 days with the same people, why would I go for a holiday with them? Okay then, wherever the team wants to go.
Taking guard on a different pitch
Goa (I love beaches.) Melbourne (that's not counted, it's home), the Caribbean, Dubai, English summers are beautiful (wherever the family is happy)
Shooting, bungee jumping, TT, squash, all kinds of sports, jet ski, snorkelling, scuba diving, parasailing, swimming in the ocean
On your playlist:
A lot of Punjabi and Sufi, Hans Raj Hans, Garry Sandhu, Wadali Brothers, Gurdas Mann, so many others, poetry
Mountains or beaches:
No one really
Mostly comedy and action. It's currently Avengers
There are so many. Who should I name?
Whisky or Beer:
Value the most today:
Pictures: Subi Samuel
Styling: Henna Akhtar
Hair & Make-up: Ashwin Shelar