KL Rahul made a forgettable debut, playing two nervous shots at MCG, questioning whether he belonged there before going to Sydney next week and scoring a century. That intervening period between the two Tests was not as difficult as the time he has spent out of the team with his shoulder injury and illness. That is because during the 17 Tests he has played, Rahul has missed 10 in between. The latest layoff was for a shoulder surgery after he played through the pain against Australia. It cost him the whole IPL, Champions Trophy and the West Indies tour. When he was ready to come back, viral fever put him out of the Galle Test.
Now back in the side, having scored a sixth half-century in a row, Rahul sounded relieved. "I think this is a lot more difficult because physical injuries, you want to do a lot of things," Rahul said. "We as sportsmen, we're not used to just sitting at home and being at home all day. We want to go out, we want to play sport, we want to be in the gym, want to train, we want to hit balls, and when you're not physically able to do that, it's really tough. It starts playing on the mind a lot more. Sydney, the way it was, was definitely very difficult. But I think injuries are a lot harder on the body and on the mind."
Rahul said it was difficult to keep making comebacks. "More than playing for a long time, I have been in and out of the team because of injuries," he said. "It's never easy to come back. It takes you a couple of games to get back into your groove as an opening batsman, understand where your off stump is, to understand what pace you have to play at, how many shots are too many shots, how slow is too slow.
"There are a lot of things, a lot of doubts in your mind if you keep going out and coming back in, but yeah I have enjoyed the challenge. People might say there is a certain part where I can control my body and I can take care of my body but sometimes it just happens. No matter how well I have taken care of my body, I have been injured a few times, which is very unfortunate and which is very disappointing but each time I have come back, I have come back stronger, I have come back more hungry. It's kind of taught me to value my position, value my opportunities each time go out on to the middle. I enjoy it and play it like my last game. That's something that has really worked well for me."
That Rahul enjoyed the support of the team, that he knew he would walk into the side whenever he was fit and healthy, was a big help. "It makes a massive difference," he said. "It gives me so much confidence, not just now but even after the surgery, the support staff, the coaches, the boys were constantly messaging me and saying 'whenever you are ready, get ready sooner, the team misses you', and small things like that make a lot of difference when you are injured and you are down.
"That kept me motivated, that woke me up each morning to go to physiotherapy and do my boring rehab. It gives you confidence that team is backing you, team trusts you, waiting for you to come back into the team and that makes a big difference and I come back with lot more confidence. I can walk into the team with ease in my head, there is no pressure me losing my position, which is great and which the captain and coaches have always given me that support, which has played a big role in my small career so far."
There has been another shift in Rahul's career. He has gone from being a hundred-or-nothing to scoring fifties for fun but not converting them. "I've never chased numbers, firstly," Rahul said after joking he was dying to get that hundreds phase back. "My job as an opening batsman is to give the team a good start, lay a solid foundation and I think I've done that so far. Disappointing that I have not been able to convert that, but I think that will keep me more hungry. Each time I go back to bat, I will want to get more and more runs.
"I'm learning from my mistakes. Each time I've done a silly mistake and that's how it is. Life of a batsman is... you might play 60 balls perfectly and then one ball you get out. We were discussing that in the dressing room just today. You played so well... all the guys, whoever got out, were playing so well and never looked like getting out and one ball has your name on it and you have to get out. Might as well enjoy the time you're in the middle and get as many runs as you can."