Kotla ke saare yaad taaza ho gaye (all the memories of Kotla have come alive).”
A major part of his cricketing life has deep links with the Kotla, and it was bound to be at the centre of a conversation on his career. This is a venue where Dhawan endured agony for most part in his 20s, hoping to break into the Indian team. Then as now, though, the talk remains about how Dhawan’s enviable athletic physique comes with a seemingly carefree and happy-go-lucky demeanour.
“I don’t show my emotions. The intensity stays inside me,” Dhawan said, reacting to a question on his persona. “Getting excited will not help. I like to have a clear mind but that doesn’t mean I don’t have any intensity.”
Then he dropped the word ‘
thehrav’ (a state of mental stability) for the first time. Images of a young, impetuous Dhawan captaining an inconsistent Delhi Ranji side and having fun on his high-end sports bikes at the Kotla are still fresh in the mind. “When I talk about
thehrav, I still like to have fun the way I did during my Ranji days. I take my wife around for fun bike rides any time I want,” he claimed.
Would that possibly be on the streets of Australia, where his wife Aesha is based? Dhawan was prompt: “I do it frequently in Delhi as well.
Yahan par bhi kaun rokega mujhe (who’s going to stop me in Delhi)? I just tell her to put on a helmet and we hit the road any time we want.”
Sometime in 2012, around six months before his memorable Test debut against Australia, Dhawan headed to the Kotla for practice immediately after his wedding. For most part of that domestic season, one would have found Dhawan giving throwdowns to Aesha after the day’s play. “I discuss my cricket with her. We have intense discussions on how I am going about it,” Dhawan revealed before letting his humorous side take over. “Sometimes she gets so involved and excited if I don’t play well that I need to tell her, ‘Calm down.
Itna gussa toh mera coach bhi nahin hota (even my coach doesn’t get this angry with my performance).’”
Then he talked about the greatest influence in his life. “I was lucky that with my wife came her two daughters. That helped me channelize my energy. I became less distracted, more focused. It has brought
thehrav in my life.”
Talking of his evolution as an India cricketer, one would believe Dhawan decided to turn vegetarian on fitness grounds. Typical of Dhawan, though, it’s a different reason altogether. “It has nothing to do with fitness or diet. Of late, I have been focusing on cutting out all the negative energy from my system. It’s just that I have started to feel that eating animal meat brings negative energy to your body. That’s why I turned vegetarian three months ago.”
At 33, there’s more to Dhawan than the showboating and on-field bravado. Looking ahead to the World Cup, one can’t ignore his superlative track record at ICC events, which overshadows even the prolific Virat Kohli.
You bring up the talk of handling pressure in such high-octane events and his on-field theatrics. “I can’t let pressure take control. The more I think about my game, the more it’s likely to hamper me. I have to make sure I don’t allow emotions to get the better of me and I am calm on the field,” was his honest reply.
What about the discrepancy between his success in white-ball cricket compared to a stop-start Test career? “My record in Test cricket is pretty good. I average around 41-42. If you see the conditions during the Test series in England, it was very tough. The field-placing is very attacking and you tend to be more careful. It’s just that the approach changes in limited-overs cricket. You get to express yourself a lot better and drop inhibitions,” Dhawan remarked.
The conversation turned back to the Kotla and the days of his long grind in the domestic circuit, soon after the high of being the player-of-the-tournament in the U-19 World Cup in 2004. Dhawan kept his chin up despite a dry run with the bat and came back strongly, as he recently did for Delhi Capitals in the IPL after an indifferent run with the Indian team in the preceding two months. The word ‘inconsistency’ is often the first word that comes to mind while describing Dhawan the batsman, but his mental toughness and success in India colours has a lot to do with how much he copped on the chin during his days as a first-class career.
“It’s not that I was struggling in first-class cricket. I was pretty consistent. But when I look back, those things have helped me to face any situation. You know the value of a thing when you finally get it. It’s my passion for the game that has helped me get through the rough periods in my life,” Dhawan said.
“Even at Capitals, I may be the senior player and guide youngsters like Prithvi Shaw, Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer, but I also realize they are also professionals who have made it to this level. So I go looking for answers from them and try to learn how they deal with situations. It’s the same with Rohit (Sharma) as well.”
His wait till the age of 27 to cement an India place, followed by six years of being an international cricketer, have done enough for Dhawan to value the space he is in. “I love everything — the ups and downs — about the last five-six years of my life. You learn to value the journey. I don’t want to let go the joy of winning, the pain of losing and the pressure that it brings. It has also brought responsibility,” he asserted before taking his leave. It was time for a video chat with his daughters in Australia.