Most of the premier Indian cricketers were playing in the IPL till the other day, but KL Rahul, the vice-captain of the national white-ball teams, is clear that it will be “a fresh start” for them in Australia when the exchanges begin with the ODIs on Friday. Apart from being Virat Kohli‘s deputy, Rahul is also the team’s first-choice wicketkeeper and one of the premier batsmen, and having shouldered all of those responsibilities while leading the Kings XI Punjab in the IPL, Rahul insists, “I got used to that role and I started enjoying it”.
“I did get a little bit of a feeler with the IPL. I had to play similar roles there as well,” he said of the triple responsibility at a media interaction on Tuesday. “It was challenging and it was new, but I think I got used to it and I started enjoying it. And hopefully it will continue the same way here.
“When you’re playing for your country, you’re 11 of the best guys from your country, and they’re all skilled and they all have a great cricket mind, and have a great understanding by themselves; and there’s an able and passionate leader like Virat (Kohli), who will always be there for the boys – it just makes your job a little bit more easier, and I am looking forward to the new responsibilities.”
While at the IPL, Rahul said one of the gains for him was that he did manage to learn how to compartmentalise, how to be one and not the other two at all times.
“Something that I learnt from the IPL is to stay in the moment, stay in the present, and when I am batting to think as a batter, and to assess the conditions and see how as a batter I can win the game for the team. And when I am wicketkeeping, for those last three or four seconds as the bowler is running in, it’s important that I switch on as a wicketkeeper and not be thinking as a leader,” he elaborated. “That’s something I learnt over the IPL, which is very important for me going ahead.
“I think it’s important to start well in the white-ball series. We are playing for the country after a while and we are all excited to play some hard cricket, some aggressive cricket. Australia is a country where we have enjoyed coming and competing and playing hard and aggressive cricket.”
Being part of the India white-ball leadership group, Rahul does have at least one small plan in place: “Maybe take it one or two steps ahead and make sure the team environment is great and the players are hungry and looking forward to win games for the country.”
When he last played ODI cricket, back in early February in New Zealand, Rahul batted at No. 5 and kept wickets – he scored a century in a losing cause in the final game of that series but seemed to have fixed the No. 5 spot for himself.
Rahul on resuming cricket after an extended break and the challenges of life in a bubble
“I haven’t played a lot of 50-over cricket for a continued period of time,” he said. “Though I’ve been part of the Indian team for a few years now, I’ve never got a long run like this. So feels good that I am contributing to the team’s win and playing my role pretty well and I am happy that I can go out and put up consistent performances for my team.”
Rahul, however, wasn’t sure what the team’s plans for him going forward – with two T20 World Cups and an ODI World Cup in the next three years – were.
“It will depend on the formats that I am playing and what the team wants of me and what combination sits better. Obviously the last ODI series we played, I batted at five and kept wickets. So, yeah, that is a role I quite enjoyed and I am happy to do or play whatever roles the team gives me,” he said. “Nothing has been told to me or I don’t think we as a team are thinking that far. Obviously World Cups are very, very important and that is the long vision for every team and every country. But, when it comes to me, we are still taking it one game at a time and if I keep putting up consistent performances with the bat and the gloves, it gives us the option of playing an extra bowler or an extra batter, it just helps the team combination a little more.
“So it’s something I would love to do and if the opportunity presents itself, and I can keep in all the three World Cups, I’d love to do it for my country.”
On the topic of fresh starts, it was one when the players got together in the UAE for the IPL in late August. At the time, shortly before the IPL got underway, Rahul had expressed his fears about returning to the game after the long layoff. He even said that at times he had worried about forgetting the basics. Rahul’s team finished at No. 5 but he topped the run-scorers’ chart for the tournament.
“It does give a player a lot of confidence. Just considering how the last six-seven months went before the IPL – we hadn’t played a lot of cricket so it was important as we all came into that tournament with a lot of self-doubt and we hadn’t prepared enough, so we had a lot going on in our mind – it felt good that I could get runs in the middle and, hopefully I can use that confidence and use that momentum in this series as well,” Rahul said. “Obviously it’s a different format, playing Australia, who are a very competitive team. Yes, having runs behind you does help but, again, it’s a fresh start, it’s a fresh tournament and it’s a different format. So it’s important that we start fresh and stay positive and look to win matches for the team.”