Shikhar Dhawan is nicknamed Gabbar, after the iconic villainous character in the Bollywood film Sholay. Gabbar laughs loudly. Gabbar is cruel, he is scary, his pauses are menacing, but, over the years, upon repeated watching of the film, he has become a loved character. Dhawan walked into the press conference before the third ODI wearing his cricket spikes, creating a noise reminiscent of Gabbar menacingly pacing around when admonishing members of his gang.
Somebody remarked to Dhawan that now he has begun entering press conferences like Gabbar. And on cue, Dhawan spoke the legendary line: “Bahut yaarana lagta hai” [the bond seems strong]. Take out Gabbar’s mocking tone, and it sounds like Dhawan could be talking of a happy winning team.
South Africa’s coach, fast bowler Ottis Gibson, is bowling legspin in the nets. There are other legspinners called up. It seems anybody capable of bowling wristspin is welcome. Their three main batsmen are injured. India, on the other hand, have everybody fit, their top three is arguably the best in the world in ODIs, and they have got variety in their bowling. Dhawan believes India have no weaknesses left now.
“We have a very balanced side,” Dhawan said. “The good thing is there’s experience and youth, but the younger players are also playing the way experienced cricketers do. That is a big strength of ours. And with an allrounder coming in, the balance overseas is set. We have the option of not introducing spinners early depending on the situation. So we have a lot of flexibility. If the game goes a certain way, we know that we can bring on spinners later than normal, and Hardik [Pandya] can bowl at that time. That is certainly an X-factor. And we have a lot of experience too. For instance, this is my second tour to South Africa, so I was better equipped for this tour, mentally and skills-wise. That plays a big role. All our bases are covered.”
You can still look at a couple of things, though, one of them being the slight hesitation in running between the wickets on this tour. After Cheteshwar Pujara ran himself out twice in the Centurion Test, Dhawan and Virat Kohli were involved in one in the first ODI. A misunderstanding is never far away when Rohit and Kohli are batting. Dhawan said it was not particularly an issue they needed to address.
“Usually we don’t have so many run-outs,” Dhawan said. “Sometimes in one or two series it can happen. It’s not that it can’t happen. That’s life, but there’s no concerns as such. If you make a mistake, you examine it and see what possible reasons there could be for it. For example in the Test matches, there were possibly wrong calls or someone ran slowly. These are the two or three things that can happen. After that you just analyse it and move on, but there’s no concern as such. Even if we get more run-outs in one series, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean we’ll get run out like that in the next series also.”
The trio – never mind the odd run-out – has kept the South Africa new-ball bowlers at bay, and also put their spinners under pressure. “The key for our success is we are not losing wickets at the top,” Dhawan said. “Of course the South African fast bowling is very strong, but we are playing them nicely. And once we cross the first 10 overs, the ball gets a bit older and we dominate after that more.”
To combine Rohit’s form in Tests with his runs in the first two ODIs will be harsh. Rohit has not scored as many as he would like in the ODIs, but he has expectedly looked in better nick than in the Tests. Asked of the lack of runs for Rohit, Dhawan was quick to his opening partner’s defence.
“I feel Rohit is playing amazingly,” Dhawan said. “The way he’s timing the ball has been amazing. Even in the last match he was playing very well, but unfortunately he got out. I don’t see any concerns with his batting. He has performed so well from Champions Trophy till now. It happens that sometimes you don’t score runs, but the way he’s timing the ball is what matters the most.
“There’s no problem [with Rohit]. Maybe you think there’s a problem, but I don’t. It’s just a matter of one innings, and he’ll score runs. Then all problems will go away.” Bahut yaarana lagta hai indeed.
Dhawan promised no let-up in the intensity even as South Africa are seemingly losing a player by the day. “I don’t think we guys are going to get complacent,” he said. “It’s a big series for us. And of course South Africa played very well in the Test series, so we’d like to go as hard as possible and try to win whatever games come our way.”