“It is difficult obviously,” Rahul said of handling what is said about him. “You have your own personality, personality traits, characteristics. When you play international cricket, they all get challenged. As a person, as a cricketer, as an individual, you are challenged each day, each moment. Social media is a pressure. Today I have scored a hundred so people are singing praises. Three-four months ago, everybody was abusing me. It’s part of the game, but I can’t say it doesn’t affect you; it does. The sooner you realise that staying away from it is good for your game and your mindset the better it is.
“You can perform or you can be in a better mindset if you slightly know where to draw the line. Nobody’s that great that they can completely avoid what has been said and the criticism they’re getting. It does affect each person. And anyone who says that doesn’t affect them at all, I’m sure is lying. But each person has to find their way. And for me, when I was injured and was away from the game for such a long time, I worked on myself. I tried to go back to the person that I am, and worked on how I don’t change myself by getting affected by these things. It is difficult to remain true to yourself and true to your personality with so much happening. It is the hardest thing.
“But like anything else in cricket, like anything else in life, there’s, there are ways to work on it. There are people who can help you if your mind is open. So that’s what I did when I was out of the game. I worked on myself and then worked on remaining calmer, and taking care of my head. And what happens inside as well.”
Rahul said there was never any point retaliating because those who want to abuse carry on regardless. He said that the only way to keep negative comments away as a public-facing professional was to keep performing, but what he spoke about his innings also suggested that he perhaps appreciates the role of luck much more now. That when the runs are not coming, it is not necessarily your fault, that you do need luck in this sport. Interestingly, it came through in his acknowledgement of luck in this innings, a sensational 101 off 137 in a team score of 245 in testing conditions.
“Social media is a pressure. Today I have scored a hundred so people are singing praises. Three-four months ago, everybody was abusing me. It’s part of the game, but I can’t say it doesn’t affect you; it does
Rahul on the nature of social-media criticism
Rahul was answering a question about batting in Centurion, where he has now scored two consecutive hundreds, when he brought up luck. “I’ve quite enjoyed playing here,” Rahul said. “The wicket really keeps reminding you that you need to focus throughout, and you’re never really set. You’re never really in or you’re never really out of the game. It’s a fast outfield. The minute you time the ball, you get boundaries and there will be times when you can score your runs really fast and there will be times when you can’t get a run at all. So that’s quite challenging.
“And I enjoyed doing that here in Centurion, and I guess I just got lucky twice. Did a few things right, but also it was a huge luck factor. Played and missed a lot of balls. So yeah, that’s it.”
Rahul, and most cricketers, knows that on another day an early play and miss resulting in an edge doesn’t necessarily make them a bad player, but that needs to be reinforced once in a while because people eventually judge you on the results.
Having scored this century, Rahul retained the calmness that should naturally follow as the other side of the coin. He said he was humbled that Sunil Gavaskar called it one of the 10 best centuries of all time by Indians. He also confirmed what has been said about him: that middle order is perhaps the better place for him because there he just needs to react to situations rather than create situations when opening the batting.
“Batting in the middle order, what I’ve realised is that you can’t really plan your innings all that much,” Rahul said. “When you walk in, there’s a situation in front of you. The game tells you how you need to play and what you need to do in that time and in that moment. That’s what I try to do. I try to walk in with a very free and very empty mindset when I’m batting in the middle order, and then see what the game demands of me and then try and do my best in that moment.”
Sidharth Monga is a senior writer at ESPNcricinfo