It took a while coming but when KL Rahul finally got going during the fifth and final Test against England, he presented a vision of what might have been. Before his magnificent 149 in the fourth innings of the final Test, no Indian batsman had even managed to complete a fifty in the series.
In a sense, the pressure was off. The series was already lost and it would have been easy to just roll over but the manner in which Rahul and Rishabh Pant took on the England bowling was heartening. It gave hope to many Indians watching. the 204-run partnership between the two was the second highest stand in the fourth innings of a Test for India.
Rahul, who is supported by Red Bull, seemed to discard his earlier doubts and approach the innings with the kind of confidence that Virat Kohli and India have now come to expect from him. The knock will give him great confidence in the months ahead.
As the designated third opener in ODIs, Rahul still hasn’t got a game at the ongoing Asia Cup but after that hundred in the last Test of the England tour, he is raring to go. Scroll.in got in touch with him for an email interaction. Excerpts:
During the final Test against England, you seemed to finally find your feet with a brilliant knock. There also seemed to be a very clear intent to play your natural game. How did that happen and what were your thoughts leading up to the game?
I don’t think anything extraordinary happened in the final test. I was just very clear in my head. In the first two test matches, I was stuck in between whether to play my natural game or whether to respect the bowlers, and the conditions.
It tends to happen to the best of batsmen when you tour a tough place like England, and you are caught in between all these thoughts. I think that’s what happened to me in the first few games. Yeah, it was my first England tour – difficult conditions and it was a great experience for a young player like me. Once I got used to the conditions, I realised I need to be true to my game and back my natural instincts. I am really happy I could finish the tour on a high.
A huge part of doing well at the international level is dealing with the mental pressures of the game. How do you deal with that? How would you describe your mental state – are you generally calm or pumped up?
Absolutely, you’ve got this spot on. The only way to be successful in international Cricket is to be mentally strong and relaxed but I think it comes with more time and experience and the more games you play, you get more experience; you realize how you can keep calm under pressure. Obviously, in a series like this that is long and playing under difficult conditions, you are away from home for a long time; emotionally it’s very tough on the individuals.
Overall, I feel I am a very calm person and I know as soon as I cross the boundary line I am pumped to do well for my country and my team but off the field I am calm and a very easy going person. I train really hard, I try to prepare to the best of my abilities to adapt to any conditions. Most of the times it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s the best thing about sport – you take it in your stride and move on, learn from it and get better each day.
29 Tests. 12 ODIs. 19 T20Is. It has been a bit of a roller coaster run for you but you have really come into your own recently. What would you attribute that change to?
It has been quite a rollercoaster so far and quite honestly, I wouldn’t have wanted my international career to be anything different. If things are easy then there is no fun of playing at this level. If things are not going my way at all, then again, it’s a bit difficult to bounce back from it. I have had my shares of highs and lows: that’s what made me strong mentally as well.
The thing that has helped me is that I have learnt to value my position and value the place I am in and the opportunities that have been given to me: A few injuries, the times that I have been left out of the team has shown me that I need to be grounded and humble to the opportunities given and keep working hard. My self-belief is very high and I know that I am good enough to play at this level and do well for my team. I just need to be patient and wait for the right opportunities, and when they come, I need to grab them with both hands and do the best I can.
The opening slot in Test cricket has been a bit of a worry for India on ‘away’ tours. Why do you think the batting order has not been able to click as a unit so far and what needs to be done to change that?
When we travel abroad the conditions are very alien to us and it takes a bit of time for us to get used to foreign conditions. Unfortunately, we don’t get enough time to prepare for the series. We have to get straight into the series and we start off playing the games.
So yeah, it is indeed difficult, but we cannot complain as that is how it goes so we really need to be prepared as professionals. We really try our best but sometimes we fail. Obviously, playing cricket in our country, the expectations are so high, people are always expecting us to win and expecting every batsman to score a hundred, which is impossible.
We play against competitive sides and they are good enough sides to bowl us out cheaply or bowl good balls at us and then you get out. Although, we as a batting unit are really confident and we have trained really hard in the last couple of years. We are slowly getting into our stride. We as a whole, have done well on away tours. Sometimes, the expectations are too high and people think that the batting unit is failing. Quite honestly, in the dressing room, the boys are really positive and confident about doing well in whatever conditions.
Finally, Australia is going to be a big challenge. Their batting may be missing some stars but the bowling is rock solid. Do you think India’s batsmen handle pace and bounce better than swing?
Australia is definitely going to be a big challenge, great opportunity for us to showcase our skills. Last time we went on tour there, we competed really well. We felt we could have won a couple of test matches, but unfortunately, the results did not go our way.
I think we did put up a great show there and we are confident of a good showing this time around too. Honestly, you cannot expect anything different; we would go out there and give it our best shot and fight until the very end. The Australian bowling attack is really very good, and in their home conditions, they definitely know how to challenge the opposition. But, we are really looking forward to it. There is nothing really that can bring our spirits down so we will prepare confidently, and go out and perform. We still have a lot of time before the Australian series starts; we are looking to play good cricket in the coming one or two months and carry that momentum into Australian series.