IND vs AUS 3rd ODI: KL Rahul’s comfort zone

Vishal Menon
Rahul fits like a glove

KL Rahul moved from Mangalore to Bangalore at the age of 18. (PTI)

Kaunain Abbas is an entertaining raconteur. The 29-year-old, a Karnataka batsman with 11 First-class matches under his belt, narrates an interesting anecdote that involves the current India Test opener Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul - his friend and junior at Bangalore’s Jain University.

The incident dates back to October 2017 during a Ranji Trophy league encounter between Karnataka and Hyderabad in Shimoga. Karnataka were the runaway winners in that particular game, but Agarwal had bagged a pair (duck in both the innings).

“Mayank was dejected. He was under pressure to score runs and was desperate to break into the Indian team. Sensing the situation, Rahul took him out for dinner later that evening. Over the course of the meal, he asked Mayank to take it easy and offered him words of encouragement. Trust me, his mood perked up,” Abbas recounts.

Mayank struck a triple century in the subsequent game against Maharashtra, and since then his fortunes have upturned. Twelve months later, he would find himself at MCG making his Test debut against Australia. “One needs to give credit to Rahul for his turnaround,” Abbas says.

Abbas, who was present with Rahul and Mayank at the dinner table in Shimoga, says that the gist of the pep talk was: “Don’t let one failure define you. You are extremely talented and good enough to play for India.”

For Rahul, these were not empty, hollow words. It’s something he attests. This two-year-old incident gives a peek into Rahul’s mindset. In recent times, Rahul has endured a pretty harrowing time in international cricket. He would get the axe from the Test squad following a disastrous tour to England in the summer of 2018. His form in the shorter formats though never waned. Whenever an opportunity presented itself, he would get rotated from No.1 to the No.4 slot, all in an attempt to maintain the balance and equilibrium in the playing XI.

With his childhood friend Sinan Khader, who also moved to the capital like KL Rahul did.

While there’s no denying that the 27-year-old worked hard at his game in the interim, it’s his large friends’ circle in Bangalore, who would rally behind him and act as a support system. They helped Rahul switch off from cricket.

“Rahul hails from Mangalore, but shifted to Bangalore at the age of 18 to complete his graduation and pursue a career in cricket,” Abbas says.

His group in Bangalore is a close-knit unit. Far from nursing bitter ego battles, laughs and banter are recurring themes. Even during his international sojourns, Rahul makes it a point to keep in touch with them on Whatsapp. Apart from Abbas, Rahul also hangs out with Sinan Khader, who like Rahul made the shift from Mangalore to Bangalore to pursue a career in cricket. There are others such as Ronit More and David Mathias.

Having a wide range of interests outside cricket is another aspect that has helped Rahul wade through such tumultuous times. “Despite hanging around with professional and grade-level cricketers in and around Bangalore, the important thing is that whenever we meet, we hardly talk about cricket. We usually end up watching and discussing shows on Netflix or playing FIFA on our Playstation consoles. Apart from that, he is also an avid follower of Premier League football and rarely misses a match during his off days. All this has helped him switch off,” Khader explains.

Expect more such laughs and banter when Rahul catches up with his close-knit group in Bangalore over the weekend.

Homecoming

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KL Rahul returns to the Chinnaswamy Stadium on Sunday on the back of a robust all-round performance in the second ODI against Australia in Rajkot. (File Photo)

It will be a pleasant homecoming for Rahul. He returns to the Chinnaswamy Stadium on Sunday on the back of a robust all-round performance in the second ODI against Australia in Rajkot. Ahead of that game, he was asked to bat at No.5, a position in which he had batted only once in ODIs. The more daunting task was that he was asked to keep wickets as the incumbent Rishabh Pant was ruled out of the game with a concussion.

He would accept these twin challenges gleefully. First-up, he hit a stunning 52-ball 80, before taking two catches and effecting a smart stumping to help India earn a 36-run win and leave the three-match series tantalisingly poised at 1-1.

Long after he had bagged the Man-of-the-Match award, it was his exploits behind the stumps that had everyone talking. In the days to come, Rahul will be tempted to watch Aaron Finch’s dismissal in Rajkot on loop. The Australian captain, in an attempt to go for a mighty heave over extra cover, was beaten by the clever dip and devious turn of Ravindra Jadeja. Rahul whipped off the bails in a flash - Dhoni-esque glovework that found Finch’s foot on the line.

Rahul is no stranger to demands behind the stumps. He has kept wickets regularly at junior cricket and intermittently in Ranji Trophy. Recently, he was Karnataka’s first-choice keeper in the Vijay Hazare and Syed Mushtaq Trophy as well. But few would have expected him to take up the mantle in international cricket with such refreshing alacrity. Wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav gave thumbs up to Team India’s stand-in keeper.

Kuldeep is not the only one impressed. Former India stumper Kiran More admits he loves watching Rahul as a wicket-keeper. “Before the Rajkot game, I had watched him during the Vijay Hazare tournament. He has quick reflexes and is blessed with quick hands, which was how he managed to effect that stumping (of Finch),” More opines. He believes that his performance in Rajkot gives the team management the option of trying him out more regularly in the future. “I am not aware of their plans. Just like Dravid had done for India in the past, I think KL also has the potential to do the same. Having said that, I have one thing to say: ‘Don’t count Rishabh Pant out as yet’,” he elaborates.

Propping up Rahul as the wicket-keeper opens up a plethora of opportunities for the team management. Buoyed by his pyrotechnics, it gives them the freedom of using Rahul at the No.5 slot, which will go a long way in resolving their middle-order conundrum in the shorter formats.

Going forward, once all-rounder Hardik Pandya returns to the fray, it will give the team two big-hitters who can shift gears towards the fag-end of the innings. Rahul’s presence at No.5 will also provide the option of playing Shikhar as an opener.

Pant is expected to be available for selection in the series finale. However, there’s no denying that in Bangalore, with the form he is in, there’s a fair chance that Virat Kohli might persist with Rahul as the keeper.

Live on Star Sports: 3rd ODI, Ind vs Aus: 1:30 pm