Dhawan puts doubts to rest with signature century

Dhawan on dealing with scrutiny: I cut down on my negative thoughts (3:39)

Shikhar Dhawan on what went wrong for India in Mohali, and how he deals with the pressures of being out of form (3:39)

Shikhar Dhawan is a West Delhi boy who lives in Melbourne with his wife and kids. But he's a proper Punjabi at heart, who can't resist dancing to the bhangra.

Dhawan and Virat Kohli - another West Delhi and Punjabi boy - showed off their moves during a tour match against Essex in Chelmsford last year, with men playing the dhol geeing them up further.

Punjab's favourite son Yuvraj Singh calls Dhawan Jatt ji and once poked fun at him for wearing flip-flops during a team photo shoot. However, Dhawan replied saying he can turn on the style with slippers too.

Questions have been raised about Dhawan's prolonged lean patch since the Asia Cup, and he answered them in similar style: a career-best 115-ball 143 against Australia in Mohali. His Test career had taken off at this very venue in 2013, when he broke Australia and records.

The Gabbar celebration was back again in Mohali, and so was the smile for Dhawan. Since the Asia Cup, he had managed 377 runs in 16 innings at an average of 25.13 and strike rate of 80.04 until Sunday. Time was running out for him: India had just two ODIs before the World Cup and KL Rahul was breathing down his neck.

Dhawan, though, turned it around in signature style. Ninety off his 143 runs (63%) came via boundaries. When the show ended, Dhawan drew a standing ovation from a lively Sunday crowd and a pat on the chest from his incoming captain. The Bharat Army sent him off with chants of "Gabbar! Gabbar! Gabbar!"

However, in the early exchanges, Dhawan had struggled against the left-arm angle and swing of Jason Benhrendorff. He scored just one run off the first 10 balls from the left-arm quick, but then laid into the other bowlers after riding out that spell.

Whenever Pat Cummins and Jhye Richardson overpitched it, Dhawan leant into punchy drives and pierced the packed off-side infield. Aaron Finch had deployed his men at backward point, cover-point, extra-cover, and mid-off, but Dhawan still found the gaps. That he shuffled from middle stump - as opposed to leg stump - allowed him to reach the pitch of the ball.

After seeing the full balls being dispatched to the boundary, Australia's bowlers pulled their lengths back, but Dhawan was ready with the hook. That the short balls came fairly slow off the pitch and sat up to be hit also worked in his favour.

And Australia were missing Nathan Coulter-Nile - the one bowler who could have pounded the deck and extracted something out of this pitch. Coulter-Nile had returned home on the eve of the Ranchi ODI for the birth of his second child.

Dhawan motored to his fifty off 44 balls with a front-foot punch down the ground off Richardson. His partner Rohit Sharma started slowly - he was on 8 off 22 balls at one point - but soon settled into his shot-making stride with a majestic lofted straight drive for six off Behrendorff.

"Both of us couldn't convert [the starts] in a few matches," Dhawan told Star Sports during the innings break. "Today we were communicating a lot, I told him [Rohit] 'take your time, no worries, we can cover up for the scoring rate later.' If you saw, both of us were in the 90s at the same time."

Rohit gradually shifted gears and even outscored Dhawan as the opening stand swelled beyond 150. Before the fourth ODI, India's opening stand had averaged well below 40 in 2019; in the past five years they had averaged more than 40. Rohit and Dhawan remedied that stat and India's recent top-order wobbles with a stand of 193.

"He's a class batsman," Dhawan further said of Rohit. "It's about saying the right things at the right moment. It's good to see another 150 partnership at the top of the order. That's been our strength for the past few years. [We] would like to keep it going."

While Rohit missed out on a hundred, holing out in the deep for 95 off 92 balls, Dhawan pressed on to bring up his 16th ODI century - and his first since the Asia Cup last year. After reaching the landmark, Dhawan went berserk, muscling six fours and two sixes within the space of 12 balls, including 14 runs off three consecutive balls off Behrendorff in the 37th over.

In the previous ODI at this venue in 2017, Rohit had shellacked a double-century against Sri Lanka. Could Dhawan emulate his opening partner? Nope, he lost his shape while going for a heave and was bowled by Cummins.

But a welcome return to form in the lead-up to a global tournament, where Dhawan elevates his game to a different plane, has put (some of) the doubts to rest.