Shikhar Dhawan is always smiling, but there is no way to tell what's on his mind. It is the same smile - dripping with warmth and a hint of mischief - that follows a boundary or a dropped catch or a joke shared with a team-mate. Even when he grimaces, there are faint traces of a smile. The last six months, however, are likely to have tested such a quality.
Ahead of his first ODI in nearly a year, Dhawan isn't even a certainty in the XI. It is ironical given that his ODI form has been consistently good: since 2013, he has averaged more than 50 in nine of the 16 series he has played. During the same period his average has dropped below 40 only once. Even last year, he notched up 287 runs in the five ODIs he played.
And yet, his place in the ODI side is not a given. While Dhawan would lose the popular mandate - fans have bayed for his axing on social media for a while now - the selectors have voted in his favour, even if not emphatically. It won't be a stretch to suggest that Dhawan's ODI career is on weak footing; a failure in this series could see KL Rahul - who is swiftly rising into a reliable all-format batsman - push him down the pecking order.
Ideally, Dhawan's ODI record would earn him a longer rope, but that it is not, at least to some extent, a consequence of his meagre returns in Tests and T20s over the last year. At any rate, it isn't entirely uncommon for players these days to be picked in one format on the basis of strong performances in another - think Yuvraj Singh.
While Dhawan's Test average in 2016 was 26, he averaged 57.40 in ODIs, a difference of 31.40. Such skewed numbers aren't a one-off occurrence, and the gap between his Test and ODI averages has continued to widen over the last four years, with 2015 being the lone exception. For instance, in 2014, when India played Test series' in England, South Africa and Australia, the difference between his Test and ODI averages was 16.44. In his 39 Test innings, he has had three sequences of seven or more innings without a 50-plus score, but in contrast only once has he gone five consecutive innings without a fifty in ODIs.
Things went downhill for Dhawan when he was dropped for the Port of Spain Test last August after a modest tally of 138 runs from four innings. He sat out the Kanpur Test against New Zealand, but was handed a lifeline in Kolkata after Rahul injured himself. But, Dhawan copped a furious onslaught from Trent Boult, Neil Wagner and Matt Henry, and managed only 1 and 17.
A thumb fracture, courtesy Boult, made the management's decision easier. Upon recovery, he had to audition himself in the Ranji Trophy where five innings didn't yield a single half-century. His T20 form had been poor as well - he managed 43 runs from four innings in the World T20 - and he hasn't been picked in the format since.
After the Duleep Trophy final last year, Dhawan, who scored 29 in each innings, spoke candidly about how he channelled the disappointment of being dropped for the T20Is into becoming a better batsman. Equally pragmatic was his take on the competition for the opening slots with the emergence and success of KL Rahul: "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]."
Dhawan found some form in the first practice game against England earlier this week and went on to score 63 off 84 balls on a flat track. After starting shakily, some of his characteristic strokes - the cut, pull and the uppish drive over covers - made an appearance. The innings would have gladdened his team-mates. Nicknamed Gabbar after the iconic villain of the Hindi film Sholay, his moustache-twirling thigh-slapping celebrations are a hit with his team-mates.
His captain, Virat Kohli, is as much a fan of Dhawan's quirks as he is of his explosive potential. But how does he motivate a batsman who has lost his place in two formats and is not too far from being dropped in the third?
"A player like Shikhar, everyone is aware of his ability. We try to keep someone like Shikhar in a very good head space," Kohli said. "Because once he's cleared his head, he can really take the game from the opposition. That's something we try to do, give him as much space as possible, not speak too much about the game - that's something I like to do.
"Knowing the kind of player Shikhar is, and the kind of person he is, it is better to leave a guy like that to his own planning and own thinking, rather than giving your plans to him. Because he's so instinctive, once he gets going, he just finds more options than anyone else. Once he's in the game, he has momentum, I've seen guys really struggling to bowl to him when he's in full flow."
Kohli feels Dhawan is still a good enough ODI opener, who possesses an ability to set up games for batsmen coming down the order. "He bats long as well, he can really bat till the 40-45th over once he gets going," he said. "So, he has a lot of positives, that's what we always back Shikhar on."
"Jinx [Ajinkya Rahane] is coming back from an injury as well, he's batted well in the one-day warm-up match. KL has been playing well for a while; he's coming off almost a double-hundred in Chennai. Shikhar has also got runs in the warm-up game so we have to figure out, among these three, who are the two who will be likely to start. But, again, I say, I am happy that all three are in a good space now having had some runs behind them. It makes my job easier."