KL Rahul upbeat about Australia initiation
On the eve of departing for Australia with the Indian Test squad, opening batsman KL Rahul has admitted to being a "a little bit nervous, but excited" ahead of his first tour, and added that being selected for India was "one of the biggest moments" of his career till now.
"I am very confident and I have been batting well," he told ESPNcricinfo. "Hopefully, I can continue with the same form and confidence when I get a chance in international cricket as well. I am watching the ball really well, I am moving well in the crease which is a big positive for me. I am very confident while batting, so I am hoping to continue in the same vein."
Rahul, 22, was named in the 19-member squad for the tour as a back-up to Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay. His call-up was expected after a sparkling 2013 domestic season, when he made 1158 runs in 15 first-class matches at an average of 52.63, including three centuries. He started the ongoing season with a century in each innings for South Zone against Central Zone in the Duleep trophy final, making it virtually impossible for the national selectors to ignore his claims for a place in the Test side.
Rahul credits his success to improving his mental approach to batting. "At certain points after playing the new ball and doing all the hard work, somewhere I played a rash shot," he said. "Perhaps it was a lack of concentration, so I have worked on that aspect. Also I have realised that to succeed in international cricket, I will have to be a better back-foot player. The wickets are going to be harder and bouncier, and the bowlers are going to be so much quicker. I practiced a lot on my back-foot play and getting used to the pace of international bowlers and making that switch from 130s to 140s (kph)."
While this will be Rahul's first outing with the national team, he did tour Australia earlier this year as part of the India A team. In two Tests against Australia A, Rahul scored 101 runs at an average of 33.66 in three innings, including a half-century and believes that experience has made him a better player. "The wickets were very different when we went there last time, he said. "But I did learn a lot about my batting. I was getting starts and I couldn't convert them into bigger runs. Once I came back from Australia, I really worked a lot on my fitness and batting. I was getting carried away in the 30s and 40s, so I have worked with my coach on that aspect. I am focusing for long hours and I am pretty happy with the way, I've started off the season."
Rahul isn't fazed by the prospect a tough initiation to international cricket away from home, in Australian conditions and with aggressive crowds that are known to intimidate touring teams. "Maybe I could have played 2-3 series in India but I wouldn't have felt like it is international cricket," he said. "This is one tour where I will get so much international exposure, everything is going to be entirely different. It is going to be a great experience for me and I am really looking forward to it."
Since making his first-class debut as an 18-year old in 2010, Rahul has been earmarked for a national call-up by several keen observers of the game. Former India captain Rahul Dravid is among those and had picked the youngster in his squad for Australia before the national selectors named the touring party.
"We share the same name, so the comfort level is much better. It becomes easier for me to go and approach him [Dravid]," said Rahul. "Since my junior cricket days, I've been going to him and asking a lot of questions about batting, technically and mentally. He's been of great help, he's always helped me with my batting and I have been very lucky to have someone like him backing me."
Having played for India at the under-19 level including the World Cup in 2010 as well as India A, Rahul has progressed through the ranks on the back of strong performances. Now with an India cap within touching distance, he is determined not to waver from the method that has given him success so far. "I've never been a person who sets targets. That just puts undue pressure on myself," he said. "I just think of going there and enjoying my game and treat every game as important. That's what I have been doing for the last 5-6 years that I've played first class cricket so I am hoping to stick to that and try and contribute to the team each time I go out on the field."
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75