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The comeback story of Rishi Dhawan – The masked cricketer

Rishi Dhawan made the following statement prior to the 2022 IPL Auction: “I’ve been seeking a team for the last four or five years but have yet to find one. This time, I’m more sure of my choice; I’ve done what I can, and I’m hoping for the best for the auction.”

He was properly rewarded for his solid efforts on the local circuit when he was selected by Punjab Kings at the auction for INR 55 lakhs. Dhawan, who had a tumultuous IPL career and last appeared in the competition in 2016, was now given another chance to realize his dreams.

An opportunity to redeem himself on the big stage was offered to him in his comeback IPL game against Chennai Super Kings. He was tasked with bowling the final over, and he was up against the seasoned finisher, MS Dhoni. And he ended up dismissing the Indian legend to put the final touches on PBKS’ victory. Dhawan’s delivery wasn’t the finest of his career, with the ball slipping down the leg side. Future generations may remember the all-rounder for the accouterment – headgear – he ended up wearing in the game to shield himself from being hit while bowling. However, when the surface was scraped, the larger picture that emerged from the night was one of a hardworking cricketer growing closer to his aspirations.

 

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The Dhoni connection to his story did not, by chance, stop with the last over he bowled against CSK. However, it dates back to 2016, when India faced Zimbabwe in a Twenty20 International. The door was left slightly ajar in front of a noisy home crowd for Dhawan to become a hero. With Dhawan and Dhoni at the crease, the visitors needed eight runs off the last over. Dhawan had only three deliveries (one of which was wide) to make an impression. Dhawan attempted to shuffle across to the off-side twice in an attempt to crack shots behind square on the on-side, but Neville Madziva anticipated his moves and checkmated him with wide yorkers both times. Dhawan eventually eked out a single, but it was evident that he had squandered his chance to make headlines. India, for the record, lost the nail-biter by two runs.

“Mahi bhai (MS Dhoni) was obviously at the other end and he told me that – play naturally. Actually, the bowler bowled really well that over. He bowled me a perfect wide yorker and I missed it. The first ball, I missed it and the second ball I took a single. So I only played two balls and only two balls needn’t make me a bad player. Sometimes, you have to give credit to the bowler also.”

Dhawan, who also played a few ODIs in Australia, has not worn the India uniform since the Zimbabwe series. When asked about his exclusion from India’s limited-overs team, Dhawan expressed dissatisfaction. “It was quite difficult. With putting in a lot of effort on the domestic circuit, topping the wicket-taking statistics every time, I was in the top 10, top 5 in the domestic circuit, but after that type of performance, I only got three games, which was a little disappointing for me. But it all depends… I didn’t do so well in those 2-3 games “He took note.

All the hours of training, all the aches and pains bore reward roughly five to six years after his last game for India, as he had a brilliant Vijay Hazare Trophy where he ended up with believe-it-or-not stats – 17 wickets at just over 23 apiece and 458 runs at 76.33. It wasn’t only the runs he scored or the wickets he took, but he stepped up when his team, Himachal Pradesh, needed him the most. A case in point is the final against Tamil Nadu, where his quick-fire undefeated innings proved decisive.

One part of his game that he aimed to improve was his hit-the-deck bowling ability. Dhawan is noted for his ability to generate swing. However, in today’s limited-overs cricket, a bowler must also hit the deck. And the hardworking all-rounder opted to hone his on-deck bowling abilities.

During the Vijay Hazare Trophy, he also demonstrated his ability as a bowler by getting it to swing at the tail end of the competition. Dhawan was feeling a little exhausted by the time Himachal reached the knockout stage of the event. The determined Dhawan went back to fundamentals, and in the tournament’s semi-final, he dislodged Services’ starter Lakhan Singh with an inswinger.

With the willow in hand, Dhawan has also been attempting to take on more responsibilities. The all-rounder also stated simply that Himachal’s depth in the batting order allowed him to play with more freedom.

“It was just being positive throughout the tournament, the plan was to play till the last over. My team-mates contributed brilliantly in all the games, but they were giving me the licence to go and play freely, because after me there was also one more batsman coming over to bat, so that gives me a little bit of licence to go and express myself. From the past 3-4 years, I have been taking the responsibility of the team. Our batting line-up wasn’t clicking from the last 3-4 years. But this time around, our batters were doing a good job and that gave me the licence to play my shots.”

“I am from Mandi in Himachal Pradesh. I was not having a kit also, then I put on my school white clothes. I went for the trials and I got selected. That is how it started and then I came to know that there are academies and you can go and practice. And then the whole year I practiced a lot, and the next year I played for Himachal state in Under-15. And then played every format for Himachal.”