In his second ODI innings, in a dreary, low-scoring scrap in Trinidad, Shikhar Dhawan grafted his way to a half-century, hoping to leave the horrors of his initiation behind. After all, he had been bowled second ball on debut and had to be consoled by his captain that many that had begun ingloriously had finished in prosperity.
Dhawan scored 51 patient runs on a tedious Port of Spain surface that day, perhaps hoping his eight-month hiatus (from the first cap) had lifted once and for all. Such expectation, though, would soon be swept away. He would make 3, 4, and 11 in his next three innings on the tour and his already stop-start career would vanish smoothly into the cricketing wilderness.
Two years to the day, at the Cardiff Wales stadium on Thursday, Dhawan was unrecognisable from that man striving to make an impression, and grappling with the insecurity of his own standing.
Dhawan Mark 2 marched down the pitch and thumped South Africa’s bowlers with the authority of one who does not merely belong but belongs well. He met Robin Peterson halfway and drove him twice in succession past the infield.
And it wasn’t just the spinners that he stepped out to: Lonwabo Tsotsobe — no Jeff Thomson but still medium-fast — was caned, a four through the covers and a six back over the sight-screen veritable highlights.
There was no standing on ceremony when the hundred (his first in ODI cricket at that) was in sight — a cut and a pull to the boundary off Rory Kleinveldt and he was on his way.
There was but one moment of discomfort, when a bouncer from Ryan McLaren pecked him on the helmet grille. Dhawan, though, continued to play his pull shots with little sign of diffidence. There is a certain swagger about Dhawan, a bullish intensity in his dances down the pitch, a grinning machismo in the twirling of his fine moustache.
“I brought this courage from the nets,” he said afterwards. “I practise this (stepping down) in the nets and implement it in the match. When I feel I have to hit, I try it. It’s my game; it works for me. “I worked really hard and changed myself, and became a more mature player,” he said at the Mohali Test on his recall. I was waiting for a chance. I did very well on the domestic circuit, and was waiting for a chance to play in international cricket. I guess that went my way.”