New Delhi: After a career-defining season with Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2016, injury saw KL Rahul sit out the 2017 edition of the Indian Premier League. The name synonymous with Bangalore and RCB is ready to be a part of season 11 of the cash-rich league. But this time round, he will be playing for Kings XI Punjab and the batsman who also doubles up as the wicket-keeper in the most successful T20 league in the world is super excited.
Critics have in the last couple of seasons taken digs at Rahul for his tattoos and at times his flamboyance. But it gets really difficult to judge someone who you have seen ply his trade even before he became a household name and an India star. But one thing the reporter can vouch for is the conviction in Rahul’s voice as he speaks about the game. It hasn’t changed one bit from the last time when he did an interview with this reporter at the Ferozeshah Kotla after being picked in the Indian team on the back of back-to-back hundreds in the final of the 2013 Duleep Trophy final.
Asked if he had goosebumps starting a new journey with the Lions (KXIP is also known as the home of the lions), Rahul said: “You are always excited to start any new journey in life and this is one such thing. Yes, I have learnt a lot from RCB and other franchises like Sunrisers Hyderabad. Every franchise that you play for, you learn a lot about yourself and also learn from the teammates and the support staff. This will be a new experience and I am looking forward to it. Like I said, the way I play the game doesn’t change. It will just be more responsibility on me and I love being that person that the team looks up to when it comes to winning games and also really looking forward to a couple of months in Punjab.”
When it comes to looking up to teammates, Rahul has made no bones about the fact that India skipper Virat Kohli has been a huge inspiration. And he reiterated the same after winning the final of the Vijay Hazare Trophy at a ground where he has fond memories — the Kotla.
“He is an extremely good player and we all know the numbers that he has achieved in the years that he has played so yeah, he is a big inspiration and it is great to have a captain like him in the team who leads from the front,” the 25-year-old said.
While Rahul did not have the best of tours of South Africa, the batsman has learnt a lot being around the big boys of the team in the last year and a half and says that it is admirable how they keep going through the grind and handle the pressure of expectations that come with playing for the country.
“Being with the national team, you are always put under a lot of pressure, not just with your skills, but mentally and physically all the time. You kind of figure out a way on how to keep yourself motivated, how to keep fit and how to keep performing day-in and day-out and those are the things that I have learnt from the big boys in the Indian team who keep doing so well consistently,” he said.
Coming back to the IPL, Rahul is KXIP’s first-choice wicket-keeper and the batsman has changed his style of training to adapt to the challenges that come with keeping wickets and play a lead batsman’s role in a hectic format like the IPL where you play one day and travel the next day.
“When it comes to training, it has changed a lot. I am not used to keeping wickets for a long time. It's been the IPL and a few matches here and there for my state. Physically, I have changed the way I train as I have to keep day-in and day-out for a long time as it takes a lot out of my body. I am looking to get stronger and hopefully keep away from injuries,” he smiled.
Interestingly, Rahul must be said to be one of the most versatile cricketers around. He opens in Test matches (even batted at No.3 in the second innings of the third Test against South Africa at the Wanderers), bats in the middle-order in the shorter formats and even keeps wickets when it comes to T20 cricket. But for Rahul, it is the demands of the team that holds priority.
“You don't get to choose. You have to be prepared for whatever challenges are thrown at you - be it wicket-keeping, batting up the order or in the middle order. It's up to the team management and captain what roles they want to give me,” he reiterated.
The talk with the batsman can’t be complete without a mention of Karnataka’s third Vijay Hazare win. In fact, the batsman flew into the country only on Monday before joining the boys in the middle for the final. But Rahul says it is a dream to play with the boys he has grown up playing with.
“Really happy to be back with them. The team did really well right through the season and it was unfortunate that we couldn’t add more trophies to the cabinet this season. But I have been keeping a track even from South Africa and it is always exciting to play with the boys that I have played all my growing up years with,” he said.
The chat was supposed to end in 2-minutes, but when it comes to cricket, Rahul just gets into one of those zones just as he does when facing the new ball against some of the best fast bowlers in world cricket. It finally takes the teammates from the balcony at the Kotla to shout his name out as he smiles and excuses himself to go and celebrate a victory in the final.