His face shield was the theme of many Gifs and made all-rounder Rishi Dhawan laugh too. But the on-field incident, after which he wore the shield as a protective gear, had resulted in serious injury.
A couple of weeks after Dhawan made a comeback to the IPL after five years, misfortune struck. Dhawan was hit on the face during his bowling follow-through during a Ranji Trophy game against Tripura. The impact of the ball had left him with three cheekbone fractures.
“It was a caught and bowled chance, and I failed to react quickly, and the ball went between my palms and hit my face. There were three cracks in my cheekbones, and it got dislocated. I had to go through the surgery. It happened on February 25, and the surgery took place on March 2,” the Punjab Kings player Dhawan tells the Indian Express.
Doctors had initially said he would need a year off from cricket. After waiting so long to return to the IPL, Dhawan cursed his misfortune while lying on a hospital bed. “This year, when I was finally picked, I got injured. I thought this is it, I might not get a chance to play in the IPL again. There was a storm going inside my head. But thankfully, everything worked out. I was able to make a comeback. The nerves are settled now,” Dhawan said.
After missing the first six games of the season for post-surgery recovery, Dhawan began his season with a game against Chennai Super Kings and caught everyone’s attention immediately because of the transparent face shield he wore. He also held his nerve to dismiss Chennai Super Kings’ MS Dhoni in a tight finish. But it was the shield that had become meme-worthy.
— Punjab Kings (@PunjabKingsIPL) May 13, 2022
“It became a talking point. I missed the earlier games as the bones hadn’t healed properly. I will be playing with the faceguard for five-six months till the bones are fixed, and the swelling comes down. I thought I wouldn’t be able to play in the IPL, but doctors suggested that I can play with the face shield,” he said.
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Dhawan has bowled to some of the most fearsome power-hitters such as Liam Livingstone, Jonny Bairstow, and Sharukh Khan in the nets. But the trauma of being hit once already does not play on his mind anymore.
“I started bowling only when my face shield arrived. I only used to bowl at a single stump in the nets. Once I got the confidence back then, I started bowling to the batters in the nets. There is no fear as such, but in cricket, anything can happen. I hope it is just a one-off freak injury,” Dhawan said.
In his comeback, Dhawan found himself bowling to Dhoni at the death. He had a cushion of 27 runs but the aura of the former India captain can make bowlers nervous.
Dhoni greeted him with a big six over backward square leg, but Dhawan stuck to his plans.
“Planning does not always work against MS Dhoni. It is a difficult job to bowl the last over to him. He can swing the game from nowhere,” Dhawan said.
“It is not in your control if a batsman hits a good shot, but what length to bowl is what a bowler can control. I used the ground dimension. My plan was to let him hit on the bigger side of the boundary. He hit me for a six on the first ball, but then he mistimed one, and I got the wicket,” Dhawan said.
Finishing on the right side of this battle was a mini-win for Dhawan. He was getting worried his performances in domestic cricket were not being noticed. At 32, time was not on his side. After playing in the IPL for four years and making my India debut, I was dropped. No one picked me for five years. My performances at the domestic level were not getting noticed. It was disheartening that I was not getting opportunities despite performing well,” Dhawan recalled.
“There is this pain inside me that I can’t describe in words. When I played for India, I failed to give the kind of performance, which was expected of me. I still believe I could have done better.”
Earlier this year, Dhawan became the first player in Vijay Hazare Trophy history to finish among the top five run-getters and the top five wicket-takers in the same season. Dhawan finished the tournament with 458 runs and bagged 17 wickets, the second-highest, in eight matches, finishing second on both the runs and wickets charts. For Himachal Pradesh, it was the first title of any kind in domestic Cricket, a massive achievement for a team who were playing in the Plate league till 2011-12.
“My aim is to make a comeback to the Indian team and to be able to do that, you have to make the right kind of noise. Winning the first domestic title with Himachal Pradesh is one of my best cricketing moments.”
He has scored 3725 runs at an average of 40.00 and taken 309 wickets in 81 first-class matches. “I just worked on my game. I have more clarity about my role. I have to score quick runs and have to bowl at the crucial junctures of the game. I have worked on my strike rate, but I have worked more on my bowling,” says Dhawan.
There has been criticism from several quarters about him being effective only on the helpful green tops at his home ground in Dharamshala. “People used to say that I am only a swing bowler. But now I have started to hit the deck more, I have worked on my bouncers, wide yorkers, and it has worked for me.”