New Delhi: Shikhar Dhawan's Test debut against Australia makes his ODI debut against the same opposition, at Visakhapatnam on October 20, 2010 seem like a long, long time ago. On that day, Dhawan had opened the innings with Murali Vijay and been bowled for a second-ball duck by Clint McKay. On Saturday, he walked out with Vijay on Test debut and fashioned an innings of such confidence and precision that it left that October evening at the back of people's mind.
And to think it could have easily ended with a blob next to his name, as had in Vizag. At the non-striker's end for the first ball of India's reply to Australia's first innings of 408, just moments before the lunch interval, Dhawan had strolled out of crease as left-arm quick Mitchell Starc lost the ball in his follow-through. The ball left Starc's hand and disturbed the bails, with Dhawan out of the crease. Had the Australians appealed, the batsman would have been out for 0 without facing a ball on debut.
Instead, two sessions later, with 185 unbeaten runs to his name, Dhawan has made headlines and will surely get search engines purring and social media discussions buzzing. In reaching three figures in just 85 balls, the 27-year-old opener from Delhi has become the fastest debut centurion in Test history. He is now the 13th Indian batsman to mark his debut with a century and become India's most successful batsman on Test debut, having surpassed Gundappa Vishwanath's 137 scored against Australia at Kanpur in 1969.
A well-built, stroke-making opener on the domestic circuit, Dhawan had been talked of as India material since he started out in junior cricket. He top-scored in the 2003 Under-19 World Cup with 505 runs at 84.16, and then in his first Ranji Trophy season finished as Delhi's leading run-getter with 461. However, patches of inconsistency left Dhawan on the sidelines of the Indian setup, and he looked on as two of his U-19 team-mates, Suresh Raina and Robin Uthappa, made their international debuts.
Post that unforgettable ODI debut, Dhawan was picked for India's tour of the West Indies in the summer of 2011. He started the ODI series with a half-century but managed to score 3, 4 and 11 in the next three matches. After five ODIS, Dhawan's average of 13.80. After a mixed 2011-12 domestic season (average 32.88), Dhawan roared back in 2012-13 with an excellent run of form.
This season he scored 833 runs at 55.53, including four hundreds and three fifties. He started with consecutive centuries in the quarter-final and semi-final of the Duleep Trophy and then made 524 runs in eight Ranji Trophy matches captaining Delhi. Since making his first-class career against Andhra at the Roshanara Club Ground in his home city of Delhi - he scored 49 off 66 balls - Dhawan came into this Test having scored 5679 runs in 81 matches at an average of 45.79, with 16 centuries and 24 fifties. He finally got his chance at Test level in his ninth year of first-class cricket. He was called up to India's squad for the third and fourth Tests after Virender Sehwag - his team-mate at Delhi in domestic cricket - was dropped.
And now he has scored an unbelievable debut hundred, laced with 33 fours and two sixes, in what could signal the end of Sehwag's Test career.
What was noticeable was how still Dhawan was at the crease, the balance so steady, the footwork so assured and then there was the driving. Shot after shot, Dhawan unfurled boundaries that signed the grass. Until he slashed a chance to gully on 94, Dhawan had not played a single shot in the air. It was that assured an innings. By stumps, Dhawan was not out on 185 off 168 balls having dominated India's first double-century stand against Australia and their seventh best partnership of all time. He is just 15 runs away from becoming the fifth batsman to reach 200 on debut.
On the eve of the Mohali Test, Dhawan had candidly remarked that his alliance with Vijay - himself making a comeback to the Test team - could not have "the pressure of comparison" with what Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir achieved due to the duration of their careers. "They have achieved whatever they have over a period of time. It doesn't happen overnight. Hopefully if we perform well over a period of time, we will be regarded as good as them," said Dhawan.
Dhawan has made a stirring start to his Test career, much like Sehwag did in 2001, and knows that longevity is what will dictate his stature as an India opener. His real test starts after the Mohali Test.