New Rahul on the rise

After a nightmarish Test debut, the young batsman relied on his natural game to make a mark

New Rahul on the rise

Nightmare. That’s how K L Rahul summed up his Test debut at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.

A couple of ill-advised sweeps in the first innings and an outrageous pull off Mitchell Johnson in the second marked his forgettable foray into international cricket. Expectedly, he was criticised, castigated and was even branded as unfit for the highest level.
International cricket can be hard but it is harsher if your baptism is in Australia. The easy way out would have been to ease the batsman out of the side in the Sydney Test but the team management showed the courage of conviction to invest in someone that they believe can be a long-term solution for their opening woes.

Had Rahul not been thrown another lifeline, and more crucially had he not made the most of his opportunity at the Sydney Cricket Ground, it would have meant that he had to go through another domestic grind before he would get another look in. With India scheduled to play only at home for the next one year or so, his competitors would have been hard to dislodge in the familiar environs.
After that shocker of a debut, Rahul put his head down at the SCG and played the game that is more natural to him. There was no rush of blood and no false bravado. Just typical Test match batsmanship – leave the balls alone in the corridor until the pacers are tired, take a big stride forward to smother the spin or use the crease to work the gaps. He wasn’t convincing at times and the short-ball did trouble him a lot. But his fortitude to fight through the tough test shone brightly.

“I feel more relieved than proud of myself,” said Rahul after his century on the third day of the final Test. “It was a nightmare debut and it didn’t make my life easier coming to the second Test, I dropped a sitter. I kept telling myself the only way from here is up, I had to calm myself down and definitely batting up the order gave me a little more time to be myself. I am pleased with the way I batted.”

Former Australian skipper Mark Taylor was mighty impressed with the way Rahul turned his fortunes around in such a short period. “I think it was just the nerves of a young batsman making his debut,” said Taylor, himself an acclaimed opener. “He was quite impressive to be honest. I know the pitches (in Australia) this time around have been a bit tame but still they are a lot faster and harder than what you come across in the sub-continent. You don’t play on these sorts of pitches regularly. So to come here for the first time and bat like this is a really good sign,” he remarked.    
  
Rahul agrees the nerves partly had a role in the way he played in his first Test. To go with that debut-match pressure, he wasn’t also batting at his opening slot in both the innings. Back in the familiar spot at the top of the order, Rahul looked at home at the SCG. “Batting up in the order gave me little more time,” he pointed out. “I have batted in the middle-order too for my State (Karnataka) so it wasn’t something very new to me. I think it was rush of blood, I had to give myself more time. It was a conscious effort to spend some time in the middle and get those early nerves off, the wicket was pretty slow and the Australian bowlers made it harder by giving nothing away. I just kept telling myself to bat through the first session so that I can come out in the second session and score more runs,” he explained.

There were a lot references of Rahul Dravid as the younger Rahul slowly but surely changed the perceptions about him with a composed 110. His ability to bat time without the worry of being overshadowed by the flamboyant ways of the batsman at the other end is strikingly similar to Dravid’s philosophy of batting. When Dravid was around, he was the rock around which the stroke-makers like the Tendulkars, the Sehwags, the Laxmans and the Gangulys thrived secure in the knowledge that dismissing the batsman at the other end was as hard as moving a mountain. Rahul has all the characteristics of donning that role left vacant by his illustrious State-mate.

Dravid’s influence is obvious on Rahul.  
“Rahul Dravid used to come and train with us whenever he was not playing international cricket and that gave us all youngsters an opportunity to go and talk to him. He is always been kind enough to share his experiences. He has given good advice and he is always a good role model to look up to,” Rahul noted.

He has also been quick to assess the difference between domestic and international cricket. “You have to be lot more disciplined with your shot selection and you have to give yourself lot of time initially,” he said. “The bowlers don’t give away anything and there are lot of mental preparations you have to do at this level compared to domestic cricket. It’s been challenging. Definitely, there is a lot of learning when you come to the senior team. I have learnt a lot from my team-mates and they have helped me through. They showed lot of faith in me by giving me this opportunity,” he said.

Coach Duncan Fletcher and team director Ravi Shastri have shown particular interest and care towards the Bengaluru batsman. He has often been seen being counselled by the two in the ‘nets’ and the fact that they stuck to him even after the twin failures at the MCG, reflected the belief in his talent. “Duncan and Ravi Shastri have been very supportive,” Rahul acknowledged. “They told me to spend little more time in the pitch and it will all seem easier after that. All the players have been very supportive. They came and told me ‘an international debut is not always what you expect. It can be hard on you. So don’t feel down and pick yourself up and focus on the challenges coming ahead.’ ”

The fact that he is honest enough to admit his weakness is refreshingly different and courageous because the first step to finding a solution to a problem is by acknowledging that there is a problem and Rahul has got a real problem with bouncers. “It (the pull) got me into trouble and that’s something I have to go back and work it out,” he agreed. “I do enjoy playing the pull shot in India but it is a little different here; bowlers are quicker and pitches have more bounce. I have to be disciplined in my shot selection a lot more.”

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