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KL Rahul’s story of fight within and beyond

The opener, coming off an injury layoff, spoke about his agonizing rehab process and the demons he had to fight to get back on the field

By Anand Subramaniam in
It’s not even early afternoon on the fourth day of the final Test between India and Australia in Dharamsala. KL Rahul is in ominous form and wants to finish off things in a jiffy – he does, as he guides the ball for two towards mid wicket. There is a run of emotions; Rahul gloats with joy, there is a pump in the air and he looks at the dressing room as his mates applaud his efforts. Six fifties in seven innings and the celebration was a testimony to what hitting the winning runs meant for him.

Rahul though, would miss the next three months of cricket owing to a shoulder injury. He would spend countless hours at the National Cricket Academy on his rehabilitation process. The IPL, ICC Champions Trophy and the tour to West Indies would be given a miss watching them all on TV. Cut to July and Rahul is back in the mix, back to full fitness and back most importantly with a bat in his hand, which he agrees, gives him utmost joy. He had his first long stint at the nets as India began preparations for the Sri Lanka tour with a practice game against the Board President’s XI here in Colombo.

The opener spent a lot of time hitting balls, leaving deliveries, getting his feet movement right and later scoring a confident half century that had seven boundaries to his name on Day 1 of the warm-up game. Here’s a rejuvenated Rahul throwing light on the painful months off cricket, his rehab process and the joy of getting back in whites.

Excerpts from the interview

How does it feel to be back to the ground and hit the nets three months later owing to an injury layoff?

I haven’t been more happier ever in my life. It has been quite a tough time to be away from cricket, to be away from the thing that you love the most. To just sit at home and watch the boys playing, it was really hard for me. It did make me a lot stronger, made me value my life, my opportunities and here I am, back in.

It feels good to be back holding the bat and hitting the ball to the boundary. It was a good day today for the boys and I had a good hit out in the middle. And it has been a while since I have been in the middle. So yes, every opportunity that I get in the middle before the Test series starts will be valuable for me. I tried to make the most of it and I am very happy.

Take us through the times at the National Cricket Academy and your rehabilitation process.

Watching the Champions Trophy and the loss in the final was heart-breaking but the way the boys played the whole tournament was really exciting. I was missing being part of the team. So, rehab basically for me is possibly the most boring thing you can ever do, most honestly. Just wake up every morning and to do the same boring thing again and again is quite tiring and it starts to get to you. You start questioning yourself, asking yourself if you really want to do all these boring things. You chose a sport that is exciting and challenges you every day and here you are, waking up and doing boring things.

That was the biggest challenge for me but I woke up and there was something that pushed me to go to the gym, go to the physio, go through the painful process, needling and then pushing my shoulder. It was quite tough but it is part of a sportsman’s life and part of our career. It’s good that things like this happened to me early and I am hoping for an injury-free career going forward. The surgeon and the physio were really happy that I could come back in three months. They were expecting me to come back a lot later but I did pay a lot of attention to my rehab. I was very disciplined and very eager to get back to the team as soon as I could. I didn’t want to miss out on any more matches.

You have had injuries in the past but this was kind of a first when it came to an injury with a major surgery. Did you doubt yourself and have any doubts when you got back to the nets?

Yes, I am still very nervous. The body is still very unsure and it keeps holding me back every time. That’s the biggest challenge coming back from injury. You know that you are physically fit and you have done everything that you can, worked really hard, you are feeling stronger, you are feeling fitter. But the mind always tells you what if it happens again, what if you have to go through the same grind for three months, what if your shoulder is not ready, what if you come back early?

There are a lot of questions, a lot of doubts and that’s the biggest challenge and fight for me. But so far, I have been doing well. I have been enjoying each day and I have been a person who takes it as it comes. If it happens again, it happens again. It’s not in my control, I have done everything I can to get back. I tried to get my shoulder stronger, my body stronger.

Once I put my helmet on, I forget all of these things. You see the ball, you see the ball pitched up to you and it has to be driven, you will drive. Your body is used to that for 15 years. Injured or not injured, your body just reacts. The fear is obviously there but I will fight it and I will overcome that.

A good long stint at the nets and some quality time in the middle in the warm-up game. What did you make of it?

it was really good, it wasn’t bad. I was middling the ball from ball one, hit a few boundaries from the middle of the bat, rotated the strike and not a lot of balls beat my bat. A few balls beat my bat which is obvious, which happens if you are coming back after a long time. Playing in the nets is an entirely different thing and going out there in the middle is a completely different challenge. It was good for me.

I will take back a lot of positives. Like I said, I am so happy right now just to be back that if I had not gotten runs, I would have still been happy that I am back in the team, back to what I want to do. I am just really happy and grateful for being back on the field.

Did you work on any specifics in the nets?

Honestly, I have had only like three net sessions before I have come here, so I haven’t had a lot of practice or skill-time. I am just coming with a fresh mind and we do have 3-4 days before the Test match starts, so I will make the most of it. I played a practice match in Bangalore before I came here and had a few net sessions before I travelled with the team. That has given me a little bit of confidence and like I said, it is mostly me fighting my doubts and fears in my head more than anything else.

You had a mixed tour last time when you toured Sri Lanka. What have you learned from your previous outing?

As far as I remember, all the Test matches were very competitive. The pitches here are very helpful for whoever does well. Fast bowlers have something (for them) in the wicket, the ball will spin and bounce a little bit, but if you apply yourself, you will get a lot of runs. I did get one hundred and I will think of all the positives. The injury has taught me to be a lot more positive, just keep the negatives away.

What I learnt from the last tour was, I left a few balls and got bowled. I went back and worked a lot on my batting. I decided to play a lot more closer to the body and the Kookaburra ball does a little bit for the first 20-25 overs and then you can play your shots and get a lot of runs. So, the first 20-25 overs will be the biggest challenge and if I can fight through that as an opening batsman, then there are a lot of runs to be made.

Eager as ever and ready to hit the ground running?

I am very very excited and happy to be back. I am a little bit nervous too because I am coming back after a long time. I just want to go out there, enjoy myself, take every opportunity and every day as it comes, try to do my best and that’s what my mantra has been all the time. I will play fearless cricket and see what the team requires of me and how I can do it to my best.