After India won the toss and opted to bat in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle, Abhinav Mukund and Shikhar Dhawan walked out to bat together. It was a study in contrast.

They stepped on field together, and then Mukund charged forward after a few steps, almost a sprint to the wicket, like he couldn’t wait to get going. Dhawan followed his now familiar routine – stretching out a bit, checking his gear and just casually walking up, jersey sleeve standing tall and signifying his nonchalant ways.

“We have only two available openers,” said Virat Kohli at the pre-match press conference, on Tuesday. That both of them needed runs, is an obvious understatement. By the end of day one, Mukund had scored too few while Dhawan scored a lot.

Funnily enough, he could have scored even more, or not scored at all.

Luck favours Dhawan

He was not in the original squad for this Test series, dropped earlier in the year for the Australia series at home in favour of Mukund. After Murali Vijay was ruled out, Dhawan was the obvious choice as replacement, even if he was half way onwards to Australia by then.

“I would have been in Melbourne with my family, if I had not been here. As it is, I was holidaying in Hong Kong on my way to Australia when I got the call. Sadly Vijay was injured. Perhaps it was my destiny to come and play here,” he said.

Do your best and believe in what is in store for you, is how Dhawan plays his game. Perhaps, it is needed when you are the slam-bang sort of batsman. See ball, hit ball, and believe that you have hit it well – Virender Sehwag lived by that mantra and found humongous success. Dhawan is the poor man’s Sehwag, at best, and his career – in Tests or otherwise – has been patchy to say the least.

Galle Redux

Dhawan’s game is quite power-centric, and over a period of time, it can appear to be one-dimensional. However, despite his obvious shortcomings, he has added a new aspect to his game. He has always been strong off his legs, like most sub-continental batsmen, but over the last couple seasons, his game on the leg-side has climbed up a notch.

You can recall the flicks he deploys when playing in the IPL, or even in the Champions Trophy lately. He has brought them to the Test arena and it proved most useful against Sri Lanka as he pulled and swept the bowlers with aplomb.

Sample this. 56 per cent of his runs on day one came on the leg side, and it includes 16 out of his 31 boundaries. 11 of those fours came off the spinners as he brought out the sweep shot in its full glory, going down one leg and at a later stage in his innings, even playing the paddle shot.

Rare as it may seem, this was Dhawan at his most-fluent best.

“My debut innings (against Australia) was very much like this one. Even against Bangladesh (in 2015), I scored a quick hundred over there. But this was a bit better than that Bangladesh one, I think,” said the centurion.

Issues with the longer format

Since his debut in March 2013, Dhawan has only played 24 Tests including this one in Galle. Team India has played 42 Tests in that time. Clearly, his form hasn’t been good enough to cement a spot all this while. When you open up his record, you will find a few good knocks, scattered across those games, especially in the last couple seasons. They are mostly timely runs that have saved his spot in the Test squad, nothing more.

It was back in 2014, whilst touring New Zealand, that Dhawan experienced his most fruitful Test series. Yes, it spanned only two Tests but with scores 0, 115, 98 and 2, it marked the most consistent phase of his short career. He has done well in one-off Tests too – like on his debut against Australia, or the 2015 Test in Bangladesh.

Throughout his career though, Dhawan has been plagued with certain inconsistency, one that doesn’t allow him to finish a series as strongly as he starts them. It is the single biggest explanation why the selection sword is always hanging on his head.

“It does bother me a bit, yes. When I had that lean patch recently, I knew that if I wasn’t going to score runs, I could get out of the side. Of course I felt that pressure at that moment and when I got out of the Test side, it hurt me,” said Dhawan on Wednesday.

“I started playing domestic cricket for Delhi (when dropped) and I was enjoying myself there. One thing about me is that I don’t like to be sad all the time. I like to be happy and I don’t want to run around things too much. I know if it has to come, it will come,” he added.

It was in Sydney (2015) that Dhawan was first dropped in favour of Rahul as Kohli assumed full command of the Test side. The young opener’s graph is contrary to Dhawan’s, as he went about affirming his place in the playing eleven whenever afforded the opportunity. What Rahul did was to make life difficult for the incumbents. He pushed Dhawan and Vijay, and eventually the former was relegated to third-choice before being left out completely.

A golden chance

As such, this comeback was possibly Dhawan’s golden chance to prolong his Test career, even as a third-choice opener when Rahul and Vijay are both fit. For a change, the left-hander didn’t disappoint.

Truth be told, the left-handed opener should have still been batting at stumps. He had been dropped on 31 and never gave Lanka a second whiff at his wicket, until he mistimed to mid-off on 190.

“I was confident enough to clear the fielder. It is okay, I am happy with 190 and thankful to God,” he said, complete with that signature smile, when asked about missing out a Test double hundred.

That smile, that never-mind attitude, that spirit to fight back, is the essence of Dhawan. It also underlines what could have been, possibly achieving more than he already has if only he tempered down a bit to the demands of this cruel game.

Most of all, it pinpoints the flaw in him, and why he relies on destiny without worrying a great deal.