I am a big fan of Virat, AB: KL Rahul
‘Rahul,’ ‘Batting’ and ‘Karnataka’ – these three words have always combined to give a team the stability required to pull off wins. So it might come as little surprise when a younger Rahul, in this case, KL Rahul, put up a match-winning performance to take India Under-23 across the line in the final of the Asian Cricket Council Emerging Teams Cup, against Pakistan.
The vice-captain of the India Under-23 side shouldered the responsibility of seeing his side through as they chased the 160-run target at the Kallang Ground in Singapore to pull off a nine-wicket win. The opener, who remained unbeaten on 93, was calm as he garnered runs under trying conditions, and struggled with cramps towards the end of the innings. However, he never let his guard down even when the match was firmly in his team’s grip. He found an able ally in Manprit C. Juneja, and the duo ensured a victory for India.
Like his namesake, the legendary Rahul Dravid, the modest youngster was one of the most consistent contributors for his team and was instrumental in lifting a major trophy.
In an interview with to bcci.tv later, the young batter spoke the significance of this particular tour and his batting.
What was the pressure like playing in a final and that too against archrivals Pakistan?
I cannot say that there was no pressure. But all I was thinking was to treat this as just another game and not think about the finals or the opponents; we spoke about it in the meeting too.
Did the experience of playing against Pakistan earlier also help in the final?
Yes, definitely. We knew their game plans and players they would play and the weaknesses of the players and all their strengths. We did discuss it before the final and we had planned for a few of their batsmen. The credit must go our bowlers, they came out and executed the plan and got them out for a very small total, so that made it very easy for us.
How had you planned on chasing down the small target?
To be honest, it was a very tricky target. While going in to bat you don’t know whether to attack or take it slow. Also, we went in to bat at a very tricky time because we had to play eight overs before the lunch break and that actually spoiled our plan a little bit. But then, once we went in, Unmukt Chand and I started really well. We got a couple of good shots and we got off to a good start. Unfortunately, Unmukt got out before the break. I did start very well and that gave me a little confidence. I was seeing the ball very well and I got a few decent scores, before that game. So I was pretty confident.
How about your match-winning partnership with Manprit Juneja?
It was a very calm atmosphere once Manprit came in to bat. We had a good partnership in the previous game as well, against UAE (in the semi final). We both scored runs and had a good partnership. He was in good form having scored 76 runs in the previous game. He did not take a lot of time to settle down and he started very well. So that eased a little bit of pressure off me at the other end. Runs were coming from both ends, so it was easy and we just kept telling each other to finish the game off ourselves and not take it easy at some point and relax. We both kept pushing each other. The conditions were very humid and hot. We had seen in the previous games as well that if one or two wickets fell, it was very hard for the batsman who came in. So we made sure that we did not give away our wickets.
How did you motivate yourself to keep going even when you got cramps?
By then (when I got cramps) we were confident of winning the game. It was painful; you never enjoy your cramps. I was just happy that we finished the game and it did not affect my batting or the victory.
But you missed out on a century
Maybe cramps were a factor. I told Manprit after some time to look for his fifty because I was feeling very tired and I was cramping, so I could not push for my hundred. I could not accelerate at that time and try to get runs quickly.
You were one of the most consistent performers for India in the tournament. What kind of preparation went into it and how was your overall experience?
We were all new to these conditions, and we did not know what to expect from Singapore. When it comes to preparation, we had lot of camps before. We had a 25-member camp and most of the guys were there. And then we had a one-week camp in Bangalore. So we prepared well. We also had couple of matches and all of us had been playing. I had KSCA tournaments and I had got a few runs there as well, so I was pretty confident going into the tournament. And once you went there, the wickets looked pretty slow and low. So it was very hard to get runs. But at this level you should adjust quickly.
What does this platform and experience mean to you?
It means a lot to us. I think the Under-23 tournament is like a platform for a lot of youngsters especially. And you get to go out of the country and play good competitive games and get to test your skills. So it was a good experience for all of us. We performed well and the win will definitely help the careers of a lot of players.
What was your role as opener?
Basically, my role was to play as long as I could and make sure that the team gets a good start and carry on from there. But unfortunately, I could not make use of the start that I got and in that way it did harm the team once or twice in a couple of games. We did falter at the end (in some games) because I got good starts and then I could not convert it and I got out before the powerplay. We could not get bigger targets. So in that way I was very unhappy with the way I batted there. But otherwise I took care of the roles that I had been given.
The role was to give a good start and stay on as long as possible and keep wickets in hand, because we had good hitters in the end. We had a very long batting line-up, so we could always make up in the end. We could always up the run-rate later.
What was it like being the vice-captain?
I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was no pressure because all the players were so talented and they are all professional about their approach. Everybody knew what to do and so it made the lives of the captain and myself and the coach very easy. We could rely on all the players to take their own decisions and make the right choice. I can say it was a good experience.
Who has been the biggest influence on your cricket?
It would be my father. He too played cricket when he was younger. He has always been a great inspiration, always pushing me and wanting me to do well, but never pressurized me. There is a very fine line of parents getting too involved in their son’s game between pressurizing and motivating them. My parents always made sure that I made the right choices. They have never pressurized me about performances, me doing well or not doing well; they have always done their thing.
When it comes to batting, I used to watch a lot of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, and nowadays I am a big fan of Virat Kohli’s batting and AB de Villiers’ batting also, because I have played for RCB (Royal Challengers Bangalore) with them.
What is your natural batting style? Do you carefully build the innings like we saw in a couple of innings or are you more aggressive?
It depends on the situation. Personally, I feel that I do not have one type of game. I feel I can adjust to situations and what my team requires. On wickets like that (the one in Singapore) you needed to start slowly and then you could make it up because you knew the wickets were very slow and it was not very easy to get runs. So I had to take my time initially, and then build it up.
What did it feel like to win the final?
It was fantastic! I cannot explain the kind of feeling – enjoyable, excited. The kind of feeling that we went through at that point of time was happy and emotional. At the end of the day we were all very happy.