The only dampener during a breezy swansong for the Champions Trophy has been the rain.
Pessimistic forecasts for Sunday’s final at Edgbaston are pregnant with the threat that at best Duckworth-Lewis will have a significant bearing on the tournament’s denouement and at worst we may have to resign ourselves to an anti-climactic repeat of the 2002 washout.
It would be such a shame if it fizzled out because, in the Spin’s estimation, this has been the most enjoyable ICC tournament hosted by England and Wales since the 1983 World Cup.
On Tuesday, many a fond heart will turn to Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Kris Srikkanth, Mohinder Amanath, Yashpal Sharma, Sandeep Patil, Kirti Azad, Roger Binny, Madan Lal, Syed Kirmani and Balwinder Sandhu in appreciation on the 30th anniversary of India’s bits-and-pieces-in-excelsis victory over West Indies at Lord’s.
Only the final that year and India’s astonishing comeback to defeat Zimababwe in their second group meeting matched the drama of Australia’s twin victories over South Africa in 1999, but for entertainment and competitiveness this farewell Champions Trophy, similarly played out in a preponderantly gloomy June, has surpassed the last World Cup played here, this tournament’s previous visit in 2004 and the World Twenty20 five years later.
Every game apart from the wash-out between Australia and New Zealand and Pakistan’s defeats by South Africa and India have remained compelling long into proceedings.
New Zealand’s Mitchell McLenaghan has been a revelation with the ball on English pitches, bettering his eight wickets in three matches during the ODI series against the hosts to take 11 against Australia, Sri Lanka and England with his nippy seamers.
Ravindra Jadeja, celebrated here last week, has taken nine at 10.77 to lie second in the table of leading wicket-takers from the group stage, but it is the highest runscorer, the India team-mate whose look Sir Jadeja is emulating, Shikhar Dhawan, the sparkling opening batsman with the twirlable Snidely Whiplash moustache, who has emerged as the Champions Trophy’s most richly treasurable player.
The days when you could read about an international player long before you had seen him have disappeared so the capacity for one to surprise or for you to form your own subjective replica by using imagination has diminished because the temptation to click on a highlights reel is too seductive.
Dhawan, though, could not possibly have resembled the portrait established in the Spin’s mind’s eye any more during the moments between hearing about his staggering innings of 187 on Test debut against Australia, his century coming off 85 balls, the fastest by a player in his first game, and turning to YouTube.
He typifies the dashing Indian batsman of the IPL era – powerful, physically confident, bold and with the swagger of someone who feels he epitomises the spirit of the age of the game in which he is playing.
Dhawan looks at home because he is at home. Some Indian fans will tell you that it is not unusual for cricketers brought up in Delhi – Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Ishant Sharma and Dhawan – to consider themselves born of the purple and have innate capital swank.
Indeed, Dhawan has not only inherited Sehwag’s position in the team but also his intrepid swashbuckling, an approach to the game built on technique but also with a natural born dandy’s audacious devotion to panache.
It has taken him nine years to flourish in the India side since scoring three centuries during the Under-19 World Cup in 2004.
He had played one ODI match in 2010 and four on India’s tour of the Caribbean in 2011 before the three Champions Trophy group games and it was the hard work he put in after letting Delhi down with a soft dismissal in a Ranji Trophy defeat by Railways in 2011 that earned him the wrath of the coach, Manoj Prabhakar, that has been his making. He had always been flamboyant but nonchalance turned it too often into flashiness in the past.
In the 2011-12 and 2012-13 domestic seasons he matured, adding focus and determination to his talent.
On the morning of his Test debut at Mohali in the third Test against Australia in March, his team-mate Sachin Tendulkar was chosen to award him his cap. “We have known you as a very gutsy player in domestic cricket, now we hope to see you as a gutsy player in international cricket, so show us some guts,” said Tendulkar as he handed it over.
Because the first day was rained out, India did not get to bat until a few minutes before lunch on the third day and by the end of it Dhawan was 185 not out. He played a series of scintillating cover drives, using his feet to caress the ball between point and mid-off, pulled forcefully and twice sashayed down the pitch to launch the spinner Nathan Lyon for six.
In the opening Champions Trophy game against South Africa in Cardiff it was his elegant footwork that again made him stand out initially.
Middle-order batsmen emboldened by the Twenty20 game occasionally give quick bowlers the charge in the 50-over version, but to see an opening batsman, in his first proper innings in England do it en route to scoring 114 against South Africa, was astonishing and admirable.
More so was his imperturbability when Ryan McLaren hit him with a knee-folding, lacerating blow to the head that left him with a cut above his right ear.
He did not buckle, gave his head a couple of shakes and carried on hooking, driving and dancing until he was caught in the deep for 114 off 94 balls. Asked if he had thought of coming off when skulled by McLaren, he said: “It’s my nature. Courage comes normally to me. I am used to it.”