Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
Before the start of three-day game against Bangladesh A, India's national team had a camp at the adjoining NCA. While the others there practised with a white ball, Shikhar Dhawan, the India A captain, faced throwdowns with red balls and also had bouncers thrown at him with a wet tennis ball on a wet cement pitch. He had this three-day game on his mind then.
Into the first day of the three-day match, with Bangladesh A having been bowled out for 228 and with their bowling looking innocuous, Dhawan let himself travel into the next format. He will join the Indian team to play the three-match T20I series against South Africa. And in his innings of 150 off 146 balls he pulled out all the shots. The spinners barely kept him in the crease, and he also reverse-swept them to distraction. This was a rare time, Dhawan, now a regular in international cricket, said. A rare time when you can play without any pressure and let yourself go.
"I started off in the Test mode, and luckily I got boundaries," Dhawan said. "Once I got to 50, I was thinking about the T20 matches I have to play. That's why I was playing more aggressively after that. I wanted to practice the shots that I will play in T20s and later on in the series [against South Africa].
"See, I was practising with the red ball because we were using that in this match. And once I scored 50, I was in that flow and I knew that wicket was supportive and I could play more freely. You don't get many opportunities like this. Sometimes you have to let yourself go. There's always pressure when you are playing for your team, and I enjoyed batting over here. The wet ball was to keep my reflexes going strong. South Africa has got a good fast bowling attack so I had to do that. I made sure I did everything to get ready for the series."
For Dhawan this was also a sort of a fitness test, an important fitness test with two other Test openers still not fit. He had injured his hand while fielding in the slips in Sri Lanka, and missed the remaining two Tests. Here he stayed away from the slips, and also provided a mini scare when the magic spray came out for him midway into innings. Dhawan, though, settled any nerves there might be around that hand.
"I am happy with the way I came back after a month, and the way my hand responded," he said. "I used the spray because I dived on the field, and I had a scratch on my hand. It was a layer to cover up. But my hand is doing great, and hopefully it will be all right against South Africa."
Dhawan said he was ready and looking forward to the home international season. "Of course, it's going to be a tough challenge and it will be a great series [against South Africa]. It's always good if two strong sides are playing. We are playing at home so that's our advantage, and hopefully we will end the series on a good winning note."