Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun
India opener Shikhar Dhawan has admitted to channelling the disappointment of being omitted from the playing XI for the recent T20I series against West Indies into improving his standards. Dhawan had a mediocre outing in the Test series in the West Indies, where he managed only 138 runs from four innings before being dropped for the final Test in Port of Spain.
"I feel my motivation always increases even when things don't go well for me," Dhawan told reporters after the Duleep Trophy final between India Blue and India Red. "Sure, it does hurt me, but I channel the hurt to keep getting better; I don't let it bog me down. That's how I work.
"Like, when I was left out for the T20s - of course I wanted to be in the playing XI. So, that required me to do better. So, I thought, 'OK man, I have to raise my standards. As simple as that.' I don't look outside; I look inside and say, 'I will have to do this, I will do it.'"
Dhawan also said his motivation to do well increased with time, and that age didn't have a bearing on it. "It depends on your desire [to do well], how much you love the game and what goals you have."
With the emergence of KL Rahul, India have had the luxury of opting for any two of three potential openers - Rahul, Dhawan and M Vijay - and the team used all possible pairings during the West Indies Tests. Dhawan's middling returns have coincided with a breakout season for Rahul - he scored 236 runs, including a hundred, from three Test innings, before smashing an unbeaten 51-ball 110 in the first T20I in Florida.
Dhawan agreed that the competition for the opening spots had intensified, and that it had kept every player on his toes in the lead-up to a long home season. "It is a good thing. Jaan lagaani hai, dum lagaana hai apni jagah rakhne ke liye [One needs to give it one's all to keep one's place in the side]," he said.
"Rahul, anyway has done quite well in Test matches and T20s, so if you look at the bigger picture it's very good for India that there are three or four openers pushing one another, as well as openers in the domestic circuit who are also pushing for places. Such competition ensures each individual keeps working hard."
With the first Test against New Zealand in Kanpur set to begin in a little over a week, Dhawan said he was preparing well and getting physically and mentally stronger. Asked if there was any specific preparation involved, he replied with a laugh: "I am batting for 40 minutes [in the nets]."
Dhawan was also appreciative of head coach Anil Kumble's cricketing smarts, and said he was learning from him the importance of hard graft. "It's been great having Anil bhai around. Of course, he is a great legend," he said. "He is so well educated and obviously has a sharp brain. He has great cricketing intelligence as well, so you obviously learn a lot for him - be it the dedication and hard grind he brought to his game, or the aggressive mindset with which he played."
Dhawan, who turned out for India Red who lost the Duleep Trophy final to India Blue, said the tournament provided useful game-time ahead of a busy season. "It's quite useful because I believe practice in the form of matches is always good as it gives you a feel of the pressure," he said. "Especially, after you field for two successive days, your body also loosens up and you get a good vibe. So, you take that confidence forward."