Battle-hardened Shikhar Dhawan was all guts and grit while negotiating tough "English conditions" as he boosted Delhi's morale with a well-controlled 137 against Hyderabad in their Ranji Trophy group A match on Wednesday.
A spicy Feroz Shah Kotla track to deal with on a chilly Delhi winter morning was a stiff challenge and Dhawan responded with an unbeaten century that took his side to a safe 269 for six on a curtailed opening day.
Dhawan's knock would do a world of good to the confidence of a side, which was spiralling southwards, as he hit 19 fours and two sixes in his 198-ball innings.
"It was more like English conditions. It's satisfying to score runs in these conditions. With experience, you get idea of what shots to play on what kind of track. The shots that I would have played when I was a 21 or 22 years old, I didn't play here. I didn't drive any of those deliveries," Dhawan, playing his first first-class game in 15 months, told reporters.
Dhawan's body language never gives away what's on his mind and he says his uncluttered mind is the secret of his success.
"I had nothing on my mind. Jo cheez aani hai woh aa jati hain (I react to situations). I am a very relaxed person and I don't make my mind heavy with extra thoughts. The way you guys think, I don't think like that," he laughed.
With ball seaming around throughout the day and most of the Delhi batsmen looking uncomfortable, the skipper walked the talk as he had said on the eve of the match that he hasn't forgotten to bat.
"Today, I played what we call 'Box cricket' which means playing close to your body. I didn't play most of the deliveries outside the off-stump. Some of our young guys, fiddled with those deliveries. Now this comes with experience. You have a look at the wicket and you know what shots you will play," said the left-hander, who scored his 30th first-class hundred.
Using the early morning conditions, Mohammed Siraj (2/60 in 16 overs) removed Kunal Chandela (1) and Dhruv Shorey (0) in quick succession with seaming deliveries -- one that went away and one that came in.
Dhawan was hardly perturbed as the first dazzling stroke was a backdrive off seamer M Ravi Kiran.
It was a test of patience for Dhawan when left-arm spinner Mehedy Hasan was in operation as Delhi were 128 for five at one stage.
He only opened up when moved to 70s, having got a reprieve off a 'no-ball' from Ravi Kiran when he was on 67. He first lifted Tanay Thyagrajan into the stands towards the Delhi Gate end. The next six was even more regal off Mehedy as he deposited him over the deep mid-wicket boundary. Hasan was also punished with a few pull shots.
"I changed my game (according to situation) because when the left-arm spinner (Mehidy Hasan) was bowling, I was itching to hit him. But looking at the overall situation, I curbed my instincts as there wasn't much batting left."
Anuj Rawat (29), who shared a 84-run stand for the sixth wicket with Dhawan, was the only batsman who showed positive intent while batting. But the Delhi skipper shielded the likes of Shorey and Nitish Rana (25), saying that some of them got good balls on a "juicy morning track".
"I try to mix and interact with them at their level. I share my experiences. I talk to the batting unit about what all can be done and Ishant talks to the bowlers.
"The experience that we have gained in so many years, it's nice to give it back to the players. If guys benefit from it, it feels great. Now that we have come, the momentum that was needed, we got that," said Dhawan, who feels 269/6 is also a good score on this track where Delhi is yet to bowl.
"Whatever we get is a good score as there was a time when it didn't seem like we can even score 200. On this wicket even 269 is a good score," he said.
However Dhawan wants Delhi youngsters to play pre-season meets like Moin-ud Dowla Gold Cup, KSCA, Buchi Babu tournaments which used to be the foundation for upcoming players even a decade back.
"We should go and play pre-season tournaments. That process is needed for youngsters as they get more exposure."
Brief Scores: Delhi 269/6 in 66 overs (Shikhar Dhawan 137 not out, Anuj Rawat 29, Kunwar Bidhuri 22 not out) vs Hyderabad.