In his comeback game, Rishi bowled to Dhoni in the last over and came out trumps © BCCI / IPL
IPL Auction 2018: Unsold
IPL Auction 2019: Unsold
IPL Auction 2020: Unsold
Before the 2022 IPL Auction, Rishi Dhawan had told Cricbuzz: “I’m looking for a team for the last four-five years but unfortunately didn’t get it. This time I’m more confident of my selection, I have done what is in my hands and I hope for the best for the auction. ”
He was duly rewarded for his consistent performances in the domestic circuit as he was picked for INR 55 lakhs by Punjab Kings at the auction. Dhawan, who had a checkered IPL career and last played in the tournament in 2016, was now getting another chance to unlock his ambitions di lui.
In his comeback IPL game against Chennai Super Kings, an avenue was presented to him to redeem himself at the big stage. He had the responsibility to bowl the last over and up against him was the seasoned finisher MS Dhoni. And he ended up dismissing the Indian stalwart to provide the finishing touches to PBKS ‘win. It wasn’t the best of deliveries Dhawan would bowl in his career, with the ball drifting down the leg-side. The all-rounder perhaps would be reminisced by future generations for the accoutrement – headgear – he ended wearing in the game to protect himself from getting hit while bowling. However, if the surface is scratched, the bigger picture that emerged from the night was that of a hard-working cricketer getting closer to his dreams di lui.
Coincidentally, the Dhoni-connection to his story doesn’t end with the last over he bowled against CSK. But it goes back to 2016 when India were taking on Zimbabwe in a T20I. In front of a boisterous home crowd, the door was left slightly ajar for Dhawan to become a hero. The visitors needed eight off the last over, with Dhawan and Dhoni at the crease. Dhawan got just three deliveries (one of them turned out to be a wide) to make an impact. Twice Dhawan tried to shuffle across towards the off-side in an attempt to crack shots behind square on the on-side, but Neville Madziva anticipated his moves di lui and checkmated him with wide yorkers. Ultimately, Dhawan eked out a single but it was clear by then that he had missed his moment to grab the headlines. For the record, India lost the nail-biter by two runs.
So does Dhawan look back at that game and wonder – what might have have been if I had tried another shot? “I was really confident of playing that shot because I was doing well in the domestic circuit, and I was playing that shot frequently, I was getting the success. That is the only thing I tried there also but didn’t execute it well. It is not about like I’m regretting that shot but I wanted that confidence in me that if I go for a boundary, I will go for a boundary. I think I’m more experienced now and more mentally balanced now for the upper level .
“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. First ball, I missed it and 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, hasn’t donned the India jersey again after the series in Zimbabwe. There was an air of disappointment in Dhawan’s voice when asked about him being dropped from India’s limited-overs squad. “It was very tough. After doing a lot of hard work in the domestic circuit, after topping the charts in wicket-taking, every time I was in top 10, top 5 in the domestic circuit, but after getting that type of performances, I only got three games and that was a little bit of disappointment for me. But it depends … I didn’t perform that well in those 2-3 games, “he observed.
After a heartbreak or two at the highest level, Dhawan found himself back in the world of wilderness.
Rishi is playing in the IPL after a gap of 6 years © IPL
Roughly around five-six years after playing his last game for India, all the hours of training, all the aches and pain bore fruit as he had a stellar Vijay Hazare Trophy where he ended up with believe-it-or-not numbers – 17 wickets at just over 23 apiece and 458 runs at 76.33. It wasn’t just about the runs he scored or the wickets he picked, but he raised his game when his team di lui-Himachal Pradesh-needed him most. A case in point is the final against Tamil Nadu where his quick-fire unbeaten innings turned out to be a game-breaker.
One of the aspects of his game he looked to fine-tune was hit-the-deck bowling skills. Dhawan is known for generating swing. But modern day limited-overs cricket also demands a bowler to hit the deck. And the hard-working all-rounder decided to sharpen his hit-the-deck bowling skills. “I was working on my strength during my time in the gym, during my time in fitness sessions. I did some drills on my bowling and also a little bit of work on my run-up and gathering, so that helped me to have the momentum to go through. I have worked more on slower ones and I have developed my bouncer as well. So I was trying to hit the deck hard from the last couple of years. This time also, the wickets were good but I worked on my wicket-taking deliveries in limited overs. ”
During the course of the Vijay Hazare Trophy, he also showcased his versatility as a bowler by getting it to swing at the back-end of the tournament. Incidentally, by the time Himachal reached the knockout phase of the tournament, Dhawan was feeling a bit tired. The determined Dhawan went back to bare basics and in the semi-final of the tournament he dislodged Services’ opener Lakhan Singh with an inswinger.
“Basically, I’m a natural inswinger (inswing bowler), but playing four games in a very short period of time in this tournament … my body got tired at that time. And I saw my videos after the league stage and I saw that my body wasn’t going forward. You try to do it but your body doesn’t allow you to do it. That time I did some drills in the net sessions in the league stage. I tried to get my non-bowling arm into the right position. And I tried to go forward during the release point. And then when I got it right in the semi-finals, I got the opener bowled with an inswinging ball, so that was really pleasing for me. ”
Dhawan has also been trying to take more responsibility with the willow in hand. The all-rounder also succinctly observed that Himachal’s depth in the batting line-up helped 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 license 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 license 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 license to play my shots. ”
Not just in the last five-six years, but Dhawan’s self-made career is built on the foundations of struggle and toil. “When I started out, I used to play at a local ground, I used to play tennis ball cricket. I was not aware of how you can go for the trials and how you can play for your district team, then your state team. One day someone before the trials told me ‘it is like that (the process for trials) … you should give the trials’ and then I took the Under-15 district trials.
“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. ”
The unassuming all-rounder may or may not hit high notes in his latest stint in the IPL 2022, but his career has been a byword for grittiness.