Kolkata: The frowns had been rising with each match over India continuing to persist with him despite a slump in form. But hard-hitting opener Shikhar Dhawan has now silenced his critics with his match-winning performances to emerge the leading run-scorer for the defending champions at his debut cricket World Cup.
Coming to the mega event after a disastrous tri-series in Australia, Dhawan has looked a transformed batsman as he scored a scintillating ton against the mighty South Africans and later followed up with another century against Ireland. The dashing opener now has amassed 337 runs from six matches, brightening India's chances of retaining the crown.
In his short career, the southpaw has already seen several highs and lows. The man who hit the headlines as early as 2004 when he top scored at the Under-19 World Cup, Dhawan's six-year wait to earn the coveted India jersey culminated in a disaster when he managed just a duck in his maiden One-Day International (ODI) against Australia in 2010.
Three years on, he stunned all observers including Australia, by stroking his way to the fastest Test century by a debutant, marking the dawn of a new batting star. His Test debut at Mohali was all the more special as the Delhi lad received his cap from none other than legendary Sachin Tendulkar himself.
"We have known you as a gutsy player in domestic cricket, now we hope to see you as a gutsy player in international cricket, so show us some guts," the master blaster had said handing him the cap.
Smashing Virender Sehwag's record of the fastest ton on Test debut, Dhawan scored a 85-ball hundred en route to a blazing 187 to catch the imagination of the cricket crazy nation. From there on, he has never looked back.
The dasher yet again showed his mettle with the bat becoming the Man-of-the-Tournament as India lifted the 2013 Champions Trophy in England. The big stage brought out the best in him as he top scored with 363 runs including two centuries at an astonishing average of 90.75. The conditions in England demanded someone to step up and Dhawan was the one for India.
However, he could not retain the momentum in the Test series in England last year, managing a top score of only 37. Such was his lacklustre show that Dhawan was dropped after the first three matches.
He had a better outing in the ODIs that followed the Tests, scoring 155 runs from four innings at an average of 51.66. His inconsistency during the recently concluded tour Down Under led to discussions whether he deserved a place in the World Cup squad.
But all those doubts now stand dispelled.
Facing South African pace trio of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel on a fast and bouncy Melbourne track, Dhawan never looked to be in a spot of bother, middling the ball and smashing it to all parts with ease. He plundered 16 fours and two sixes to amass 137 off 146 balls.
His ton against Associate member Ireland was even better, though he was lucky not to make an early exit with John Mooney dropping a caught-and-bowled chance. An 85-ball 100 was a treat to watch not only for thousands who turned up in Hamilton but also for millions watching back home.
India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni praised the southpaw's impressive run saying it's important to back players and the left-handed batsman kept believing in himself which was important.
"He has prepared well and kept believing in himself. It's important to back players and we try to do it to the extent we can. We always believed in him. But the final step that needs to be taken from the individual. It's those 15 minutes that really changes everything and I am glad he got those 15 minutes," Dhoni had said after the Ireland encounter.
Dhawan's rock star performance in the World Cup has rightly matched his flamboyance. Sporting his trademark handlebar moustache and tattooed biceps, he has been in the news both on-and-off the field.
Not many may know about the India opener's closeness to Australia. Apart from his glamorous wife Ayesha Mukherjee, a Bengali-British by origin and based in Melbourne, Dhawan owns a house in the city.
Much like most successful men, the star credits his wife for his successes.
"I owe my success to Ayesha. She taught me that failures teach a person a lot more than success," Dhawan had once said.