World Cup: Rahul ready to bat anywhere for Team India

K. L. Rahul’s temperament, technique, mindset and 360-degree shot-making ability holds him in good stead for the big-ticket event in the UK.

“It was nice for me to go back there (India A) and think about cricket and nothing else. It helped me score runs and come back to the Indian team. I am happy with where I am right now, says K. L. Rahul.   -  K. Murali Kumar

How do you gauge a cricketer’s mindset? K. L. Rahul set a template in the beginning of the year. January and February were the toughest months for the batsman. The 27-year-old had to be answerable for being present on a talk show, with questionable content; he also faced a temporary sanction by the BCCI. But he fought the odds with runs.

Amid the rough weather and an uncertain future, Rahul had the intensity to lead an India A side, score runs and work his way up to the World Cup squad. It will be his first.

The right-hander from Karnataka had started as a Test specialist. But the gutsy approach and 360-degree shot-making ability brought him closer to the ODI radar. Using the crease to cut loose; walking across to execute a spotless slog-sweep is a must-have quality in modern-day cricket and Rahul’s armoury is overflowing.

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Rahul is not an ODI regular. The sound technique and talent keeps bringing him back. The World Cup is his chance to cement the spot. Though an opener, he doesn’t mind batting at No. 4. Having a century in all three formats ticks the mindset requirements. He can pace the innings and possesses the strength to clear the boundaries.

Having scored 593 runs, including a hundred, for Kings XI Punjab in IPL 2019 — Rahul is perhaps in the best frame of mind at the moment. Sportstar caught up with him to talk on the lessons learnt from IPL en route to the World Cup.

You batted like a dream in the IPL, exactly where you left in 2018. What made you do everything right in this tournament?

Not much changes actually [from international cricket]. It is about reading the situation, sense what a par score is and to get there with an additional five or 10 runs more so that there is some cushion for the bowlers. That has been the plan, and we communicate in the middle after playing a couple of overs. It is conveyed to the rest of the team. As a batting unit, we take it from there. We can’t go in without a set plan. You can plan for some conditions, such as Chennai, but otherwise, you don’t know what the conditions will offer.

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How much improvement you think you have had while batting with Chris Gayle in Kings XI? Tell us about the chats in the middle...

It is so good to open the batting with somebody like Chris, somebody who has achieved everything as a batsman, as a team player, won World Cups [T20], etc. Our chats revolve around holding our shape and timing the ball well. He tells me not to hit the ball too hard, that’s usually the talk. And the basic strategies as to which bowler I should target and the bowler he would target. I know him for some years now, we enjoy each other’s company.

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K.L. Rahul enjoys Chris Gayle's guidance when the pair open the innings for Kings XI Punjab.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

 

Mike Hesson had coached New Zealand to the World Cup final in 2015. Now he has been your coach in Kings XI. What have been his inputs?

The support staff is great this year. They have been very proactive which has helped the boys. Their inputs have been great. They have a great coaching and cricket experience, being aware of how to win games. They have tried their best to communicate with the best possible options. They have backed us and we have backed them. It is unfortunate that the results haven’t gone our way but the atmosphere has been good.

Rahul in numbers

  • ODIs 14
  • Runs 343
  • 100s 1
  • 50s 2
  • HS 100 not out
  • Average 34.30
  • Strike rate 80.89

 

Workload management has been a talking point for all World Cup-bound players. It is going to be your first World Cup. How does the body feel?

Honestly, I was very happy and excited being a part of the World Cup team. It is a happy feeling but after that, I did not think about the World Cup as the IPL was on. All our games were tough and they were crunch games. We had to win those. The focus was on doing well in the IPL and carry that confidence into the World Cup. When the time comes and we go to the UK, the body will automatically feel pressure. The excitement of the World Cup will be so high that you won’t care about your bodies, how many games you have played or whether you are coming in with form or not.

You have a T20 and a Test century in England. Though the format is different, you are quite familiar with the conditions…

You can take some cues as to what kind of shots you can play on the English wickets; the technical adjustments that you need to make and be careful about. I have a fair idea of what I need to do with my game or how I need to work with what I have. Hopefully, I will make the right judgement and the right call. When the opportunity arises, I will deliver for Team India.

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You went back to the India A setup before the IPL to sharpen your skills. How was it to work with Rahul Dravid?

It was great with all that was happening around [my life] at that time. It gives you space, lets you think, breathe and focus on yourself. It was nice for me to go back there and think about cricket and nothing else. It helped me score runs and come back to the Indian team. I am happy with where I am right now.

Many pundits have been debating that you could be a good No. 4 for India in the World Cup. If given a chance, would you like to bat at any position?

Of course, it is a no-brainer. It is a job for your country and your team expects you to do it, you have to do it. Anybody will do it. There is no competition here. I can’t break my head about it. If it is a responsibility, I will do it for my country. Everybody will be keen to play and whatever role is given, we will all try to do our best. The World Cup is a big event.

"It was nice to bat along with him in India A. We knew who he was, but he did not know any of us. He was the first person to come up and talk to us. He made us very comfortable. While batting, we were talking what the bowlers were trying to do, how to negotiate with the bowling etc. I really enjoyed batting with K. L. He was really calm, even in the net sessions. He did his normal stuff and we never felt that something was wrong in his life."

— Abhimanyu Easwaran, Bengal and India A batsman, who stitched a 178-run stand with K. L. Rahul in the second unofficial Test against England Lions in February.

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P. V. Shashikanth.   -  Sudhakara Jain

 

"If you have a player like K. L. in the reserves in the World Cup, it will be unfair. He can definitely play at No 4. Most openers can be batted at No 3. But in this scenario, where Virat Kohli is around, you wouldn't like to tinker with the order. It is a tricky situation. I would go with K. L. as No. 4 given the balance of the side."

— P.V. Shashikanth, former Karnataka coach, who saw K. L. Rahul from close quarters in the domestic set-up.