Cover Story

Issue: May 2013

Coming Of Age - Shikhar Dhawan

  • shikhar dhawan
  • shikhar dhawan
  • shikhar dhawan

Elaborate tattoos, macho moustache, a mischievous tuft of hair at the nape of his neck add to the rock-grunge look. If Shikhar Dhawan was in New York, he’d be fashion’s bad boy walking the ramp. He has that lean, mean structure and gait that’d look wicked on the catwalk; and as this photoshoot shows, he can slip into anything and make it look like a fashion statement. He’s a natural clotheshorse. His whole look is a bit dangerous, we suggest to him warily. He smiles and nods his head in agreement, “Ya, ya, I’ve got a very dangerous look and little kids are always afraid of me. Not many come close to me. But I love this rough look and my wife loves it too.”

Despite his amazing batting skills, extraordinary fielding and fitness levels, Shikhar’s erratic career record did not help his position in the team. His time in the India squad had been all of five ODIs and a T20 International in 2011. His record of smacking that amazing 187 against Australia at Mohali, the fastest century in Test cricket by a debutant, came in his ninth year of first-class cricket, after he had been written off by almost everybody.

By the time he scored that 187, Shikhar had by then spent almost a decade in first-class cricket waiting it out as Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir successfully occupied the opening slots. A free-stroke, left-handed batsman with dazzling shots square of the wicket, Shikhar is at his best when playing his natural game but that has often led to his demise on the crease. He recalls the first time he went out to play for India, hoping to score generously. It was his big moment, but he got out for a duck. “I walked back to the pavilion smiling. In my head I was like, ‘I can’t believe this happened’!”

Shikhar now admits he has matured and understood the paramount importance of staying in there and not lofting the ball wide, as is his wont. “I am a much more pragmatic player; I understand how important it is to protect my wicket and which ball to step away from.” In an interview earlier this year, Shikhar explained it simply: “I realised that I was not using my brains, but only my talent.” He has made it a habit of noting down his observations from a net session or an innings and going through them during a series.

Post the Mohali match, a finger fracture put him out of action, rendering him unable to play in the current IPL season till now (at the time of this going to press), but he confides that he has been cleared to play. He’s philosophical about how his strong talent has been let down by weak performances or bad luck. “By the grace of God I am a really positive person with a strong fighting spirit. I have never allowed failure to get to me. I have always accepted that I have to start working on my issues rather than blaming others, because when a person fails it’s a human tendency to look for excuses. I was honest to myself that I had performed badly out there and that it was up to me to improve. I find that this is the best approach to deal with bad times.”

For one who looks so menacing and speaks with a macho Punjabi accent, he can be incredibly romantic and gentle. Which brings us to his love life and wife—a relationship that has caused much speculation in the media.

Well, for starters, he and his wife Aesha met on Facebook. Like seriously? You mean people actually meet there, fall in love and get married, like one hears about but never believes? Both Shikhar and his wife Aesha (who is sitting around listening) roll their eyes, almost sympathetic to our astonishment. Shikhar confesses, “When we started chatting on Facebook, neither of us believed in internet love. I always used to think this is bullshit. I never liked to be on the internet for long so I thought I would chat with her for a little bit and then go do my stuff. But when I started chatting with her, I felt like we were twins—whatever I loved, she loved too! We ended up chatting for hours and pretty soon we both acknowledged that there was something between us that was special.”

So they fell in love even before they met? “Oh yes, of course. Meeting was just a formality. When I met her, it was like I had found my best friend. It also helped that I loved how she looked. We were so alike and spiritually we were on the same wavelength.” The couple had a simple Sikh wedding in a gurdwara.

They have been exchanging many tender, loving glances during the course of the interview. The cricketer can’t help smiling as his wife constantly teases him, even while she thoughtfully serves him food. Aesha is half-English half-Bengali, brought up in Australia and is a keen sportswoman herself. She confesses to being an amateur cricket player in Melbourne where she is based.

Shikhar is thrilled that she loves sports. “She comes to the grounds with me; I throw balls to her.” Shikhar has a mean Hayabusa bike that he zips around on. His wife approves of this. “She loves biking so she comes along with me,” he says. In their free time, the couple listen to Sufi music, watch movies, go horse riding and, being spiritually inclined, make it a point to visit places of worship of different religions.

Aesha has two daughters aged eight and 13 from a previous marriage. The kids have now been adopted by Shikhar who clearly adores and dotes on them. “My best times are spent with our children. Both Aesha and I want them to have a sporty, healthy life. So when I am free, we take them cycling and swimming and also to play football.” That he is not their biological father has not diminished the bond they share, and he is awed by the love they show him in return. He spends his time between his hometown Delhi and Melbourne. “My kids are studying in Melbourne so my wife travels up and down; when I’m on tour she joins me and when I’m free I go there.”

Shikhar was a rebellious child in some ways. A west Delhi Punjabi boy, he started getting tattooed and growing his hair long at the age of 15, much to the dismay of his parents. But he insists, “I was always respectful of the intrinsic values they had inculcated in me, so they came around eventually.” Even his marriage that could have been upsetting for conservative parents was smoothened out when they got to know his wife. “Now they adore her,” he smiles triumphantly.

He’s played for three different IPL teams so far—starting with the Delhi Daredevils, moving on to the Mumbai Indians, then the Deccan Chargers and, on their demise, becoming a part of the Sunrisers Hyderabad. What does he think of this constant movement? “I feel that when some change comes into my life, it’s always for the best. When I played for the Delhi Daredevils the first year I did pretty well; then they traded me to the Mumbai Indians, which I felt was lucky, because it is every Indian cricketer’s dream to play with Sachin paji (Tendulkar). I was opening with Sachin paji and sharing the dressing room for two years with him and that for me was a big thing. I had a really good time in Mumbai—I enjoyed the city and the people.” He’s now hoping to get a strong place in the Sunrisers Hyderabad this season.

Other cricketers he idolises? “Matthew Hayden and Rahul Dravid bhai. Even the youngster (Cheteshwar) Pujara. I admire Virat Kohli for his consistency and the way he thinks on the field. I love the flamboyance of Yuvraj (Singh) paji’s batting. Yuvi paji is a great fighter; you need a strong will to overcome cancer and come back to the team again. I love his game, the way he hits the ball and the way the ball takes off from his bat, you know, it’s outstanding.”

He’s proud that his game has taken him to so many different countries and that he has been exposed to so many different cultures. While playing county cricket in England, he lived on his own and learned to cook. “When I used to travel in local buses over there, everyone was really respectful, especially towards ladies. In India, nobody in the local bus thanks the bus driver, while over there I noticed that everybody says thanks or please. So I’m thankful that I went there and learned those things.”

A constantly evolving cricketer and a constantly evolving human being, that’s Shikhar Dhawan for you.

Read more in the May 2013 issue of Hi! BLITZ – the no.1 Lifestyle magazine.

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This article first appeared in May 2013 issue of Hi! BLITZ magazine

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