Rahul Sharma holds up under scrutiny
When the legspinner Rahul Sharma began his spell in the 14th over, he was under more scrutiny than a second spinner would normally be. He was playing his first game after reportedly testing positive for recreational drugs following a police raid at a party in Mumbai, where Rahul was present. How would he fare? How would he carry himself on the field? As it turned out, Rahul did just fine, dismissing Mahela Jayawardene during his eight overs.
After India won the third ODI in Colombo, Gautam Gambhir said the key to Rahul coping with such problems was to cut them out of his mind. "The media can try and talk about those things but, for me, I think that's what the challenge is - you just got to keep playing. These are the things off the field. There will be a time when he [Rahul] will be under pressure for his performances as well, so he needs to cut off all those things and concentrate on what he wants to do. I think he bowled well for us coming back after a long time."
Rahul has faced adversity and criticism before. He chose to continue playing cricket against medical advice after being diagnosed with Bell's Palsy. His eye would water so much that he had to use eye-drops and a towel after each delivery to spot the next one in the field. And from the start, Rahul had been criticised for not being a big spinner of the ball, more so after he made the Indian team following a breakthrough IPL season.
Recreational drugs, however, are different. Overcoming an illness is a personal battle and responding to criticism is part of a cricketer's life. Recreational drugs are against the law, and if he used them Rahul could have to endure the police and legal proceedings.
The news of his positive drugs test came on the eve of the first ODI in Hambantota. Rahul, however, maintained his innocence all along, but having the sword of the state hanging over your head is hardly the way to start a season of international cricket.
Rahul is not soft, though. He might go about his job quietly during practice, he might come across as a bit of a recluse, but soft he's not. He knows he can do little about the drugs case while he's in Sri Lanka. So despite the duress, he isn't worrying himself sick over it.
The support from the management and his team-mates has helped. Rohit Sharma, for instance, asked a journalist at the team hotel in Hambantota not to constantly ask Rahul about the issue. A sense of normalcy is probably the best antidote at this time. So Rahul has been going about his bowling and fielding practice as usual, and he's been talking shop with fellow legspinner Narendra Hirwani, who's the India selector on tour. Nothing has seemed out of place. And as long as Rahul is in Sri Lanka, nothing will.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo