KL Rahul: Virat Kohli has helped me in shaping my career

Rahul said, when he came into Test cricket, he was good but not as good as he is now. Kohli has helped him with his preparation, mindset, and has given him a lot of confidence.

KL Rahul (Left) and Virat Kohli often rescued RCB out of trouble in IPL 2016 © AFP
KL Rahul (Left) and Virat Kohli often rescued RCB out of trouble in IPL 2016 © AFP

India‘s in-form talented batsman KL Rahul, has had a terrific last few months in international cricket. Right from the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2016,  Rahul’s game has improved immensely. Picked in the ODI side for the tour to Zimbabwe, Rahul made the most of his opening slot. Then he carried forward his form into the Test series, when he was given an opportunity to be a part of the team, in Murali Vijay’s injury absence, on tour to Caribbean. With a ‘carpe diem’ display then, to a century in the first T20I against West Indies in Florida, Rahul has been a fantastic young aspect for India. In an interview with EspnCricInfo, he opened up to talk about his improvement, motivation and how the last few months have been for him. READ: Why KL Rahul is crucial for Indian cricket

When asked if he was pleased to see how the last few months have gone, he said, “Yes, I am really happy with the results I have achieved. Seeing the results of all the hard work I’ve put in for the last five-six years is extremely satisfying. The way I have played, the approach and the attitude I have had in the last six-eight months is what pleases me more than anything else. Even if I hadn’t gotten the same results, I would have still been happy because I’m enjoying myself and [I’m] going out into the field with the same amount of commitment and focus. I am enjoying the challenges that are coming my way, the responsibility of batting up the order. In the Test matches when the team is batting with just six batsmen, you know you have to deliver.” READ: Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin, KL Rahul lauded by Anil Kumble ahead of New Zealand Test series

Rahul has not played any Tests or internationals in India, so far, and when asked about how eager he was to play at home, he said, “I am really excited about coming back to India and playing some international games. I have been part of Test teams that have played in India before but haven’t got a chance in the XI. I am really hungry to do well in India, I have played here all my life. I feel like I know the conditions well, but you never know. It can be different when you play international cricket, and I understand that. I am really keen to go out there and start well in the first Test in Kanpur.” READ: Virat Kohli saved Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan from getting dropped?

Rahul said, he enjoys playing in the Test format, but it is not that he doesn’t enjoy other formats. He says he wants to do well in all formats. “I quite enjoy playing the longer format. I’m not saying I enjoy T20 or 50-over formats any less, but each format challenges you differently. I have been very consistent in domestic cricket and I hope I can continue with the same form in international cricket as well. I look to keep things simple irrespective of the format. I look to play my shots. I will play proper cricketing shots, but if the ball is there to be hit, I will hit it. That is something that won’t change with any format.” READ: Anil Kumble: If you want to be the No.1 team, you shouldn’t worry about pitches

He added, “With competitive and quality sides coming in the next six-eight months, it will be a big challenge, and if I can keep things simple and have the same attitude and approach as the last six months, I think I’ll do better. I have learnt a lot from the series in the West Indies and Sri Lanka a year ago. I have learnt a lot sitting outside and watching people play. The likes of [M] Vijay, Virat [Kohli] and Ajinkya [Rahane] – how they have been successful in Test cricket, I have learnt a lot from sitting in the dressing room. I am eager to go out there and perform like they have in the last few years, and the home series should be a big challenge. READ: India announce squad for Test series vs New Zealand

When asked how important Test cricket is for him, Rahul said, “I like playing all three formats – they all challenge you differently and I am someone who enjoys the challenges. Having to play Test matches for a month and then switch to T20s in five days is not easy, but that’s the kind of challenge I love to face. I respect Test cricket a lot. I wanted to play Test cricket. My coaches and my dad always thought I should look at playing Test cricket. That was my focus initially. Once I got into the Test team I learnt so much about international cricket and realised it’s not so different. If you keep it simple and play cricketing shots you can be successful. Luckily for me, the IPL helped this year. I realised I could play all three formats, and I feel a lot more confident now.”

Rahul also felt that this year’s IPL was key in getting him to know that the six-hitting part of his game was in better shape than it was ever. This year’s IPL was the key moment for me to start believing in myself and my shorter-format abilities. Once people saw it they started believing it too. I think it is very important when your own team-mates start believing that you have the game. I showed them that in the IPL, where you have your own team-mates backing you and you have a leader like Virat Kohli, who is always inspiring you to get better and who believes in you. It was important I got a few good innings under my belt. I always knew I could play the shorter format but it was about putting a few performances there. A couple of good innings and I knew I will start believing a lot more in myself, so yes, it worked out well for me this summer,” he said.

When asked how big a role Virat Kohli has played not only in terms of his batting, but in terms of fitness and preparation as well, Rahul said,” Yes, I think I have. He is such an inspiration. We feel lucky that we don’t have to look too far. The guy who inspires you is sitting right next to you in the dressing room. The level of commitment that he has shown, the discipline and work ethic, the way he has been so disciplined with his fitness, nutrition and diet – that is something that has inspired all of us. If you come into the dressing room now you can see how all the boys are so disciplined. He’s helped me in shaping my career. When I came into Test cricket, I was good but not as good as I am now. Virat has helped me with my preparation, mindset, and he has given me a lot of confidence.”

Asked how he adjusts to a change in batting order (Rahul is an opener in Tests), he said, “Again, it is how you look at it. I have always been someone who hasn’t had big plans walking in. I play a couple of balls, then see what the situation demands of me – the roles and responsibilities I have and what are the shots I can play. Whenever I have walked in, the team needed me to do well and I have kind of enjoyed that pressure. In the modern game, you have to be flexible with whatever the team needs you to do.”

Rahul is one of three Indians to have scored a hundred in all formats. When asked if he thinks about milestones he said, “I just go out there and bat, milestones and numbers have never been important to me. I always want to win games for my team wherever I play. So even the hundred in Florida is not as satisfying because we didn’t win. For me, it is more important to give my team a good start, provide a cushion to get the opposition out twice, if it is a Test match. If it is a one-dayer, have the luxury of runs so that the bowlers can bowl with a free mind. That is what is more important to me. I never plan or have targets. It only limits you from achieving what you can. I always go there to play the situation, keep things simple. That way you won’t put pressure on yourself, you will enjoy cricket more, you will be focused on one ball at a time and that is the best space a batsman can be in.”

Rahul is wary of the possibility that he might be asked to keep wickets someday and he says that he is therefore keeping himself fit and has started working even harder. “I know this challenge can be thrown at me, that’s why I have started working a lot harder on my fitness because keeping will demand a different sort of fitness. If I have to keep and bat, it will take a lot out of my body. So I have started to train harder and focus on eating right and whatever helps recover my body, I am trying to take care of that. It helps to have great support staff to look after you, they guide as well. I am sure the gloves will come on at some point. I will be ready and I will enjoy that too,” he said.

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