International Domestic

More relieved than proud: KL Rahul

A Test debut is the most special moment in a cricketer’s career. It’s the moment when all his early years’ sacrifices and hard work bear fruit. It was no different for 22-year-old KL Rahul, who made his Test debut in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.

He went in with high expectations from himself and a fair amount of nervous energy. The nerves got the better of him and he could only manage 3 and 1 before playing rather rash shots to get out.

So, when he came on to bat in the fourth Test of the series, Rahul was determined to give himself enough time for his nerves to settle down. It helped that this time he was sent to open the innings and so, could afford the luxury of time.

He made the most of this opportunity and notched up a fighting and resolute 110, batting for almost six hours. Rahul’s innings was a display of patience and maturity as he was ready to grind it out even as runs came in a trickle.

“Batting up the order gave me a little more time for myself,” Rahul said. “It was a very conscious effort to spend some time and get those early nerves off. The wicket was very slow and the bowlers made it hard by not giving anything away. I just told myself to bat through the first session and later look for runs. After I batted last night I knew that the game was still bat and ball and I got rid of all the nerves.”

Rahul admitted the unforgettable debut at the MCG played on his mind and he wanted to put it behind him as soon as he could. When he eventually did that, he said he was more “Relieved than proud”.

“It was not the debut I had expected,” he said. “It was a nightmarish debut and it didn’t make my life any easier coming here and dropping a sitter (he dropped the catch of Chris Rogers in the first innings of the SCG Test). I kept telling myself that the only way from here is up and I had to calm myself down.

“I came out here thinking that this is my first game. There was a lot of mental pressure. I am more relieved than proud right now,” Rahul said.

Rahul has been one of India’s most prolific run-makers in the domestic circuit, a trait that earned him his maiden international call-up in this series. In his second Test now, the young batsman understands the difference in the standard of cricket between first-class and Tests.

“At this level you have to be lot more disciplined with your shot selection and give yourself time initially,” he said. “The bowlers don’t give away anything. There is also a lot of mental preparation as compared to domestic cricket.

“It’s been very challenging and there is a lot to learn when you come into the senior team. My teammates have helped me throughout and have showed a lot of faith in me. I couldn’t have asked for a better team and a better atmosphere.

“Duncan Fletcher and Ravi Shastri have been very supportive and have been talking to me a lot. After MCG they told me to spend a bit more time in middle and that everything will seem easier then. They consoled me saying that international debut can be tough and that I should not feel down, just look up and focus on challenges coming ahead,” he said.

Although for the most part of his innings Rahul looked composed, he had to overcome the early butterflies in the tummy to get there. It was evident when he poked the third ball of his innings away from his body and got beaten. Rahul said he had to make a conscious effort to keep his thoughts together.

“I don’t know what was going on in my mind. It was all happening too fast. I remembered the words of my team-mates. They said, ‘Give yourself time between balls and don’t forget to breathe’. It was a conscious effort to do that,” he said.

Rahul’s knock eventually came to an end when he miscued a pull shot off Mitchell Starc and the ball ballooned up for the bowler to latch on to it. He got out in a similar fashion in the second innings at the MCG to Mitchell Johnson and has mistimed the pull on other occasions as well.

Generally a very good batsman against short pitched bowling, Rahul conceded he needs to work on his pulling skills especially in overseas conditions against faster bowlers.

“It’s got me into trouble and it’s something I have to go back and work out,” he said. “I enjoy playing pull in India but it is a little more difficult here – the bowlers are quicker and the wickets are bouncier. I will have to discipline my shot selection a little more.”