Competition for opening slot good for India - Rahul
India opener KL Rahul, who missed the one-off Test in Bangladesh with dengue fever, says competition for the opener's spot with Shikhar Dhawan is a healthy sign for Indian cricket. Rahul's forced absence in Fatullah allowed Dhawan, the man he replaced as opener in the Sydney Test, to return to the top of the order. Dhawan made the most of the opportunity, scoring his third Test century. With M Vijay firmly entrenched, Rahul recognises it could well be a toss-up again between him and Dhawan for the second opener's slot when India play their next Test match.
"Shikhar has done well in the last couple of years," Rahul told ESPNcricinfo. "I took his spot and he has got it back. I am really happy for him as he batted well. He has been doing well in all formats, and even in Australia I felt he was batting well. We would want competition like that. Even if he would not have got those runs in Bangladesh, he was always going to be there as he has done so well for the country. We have a good relationship and we play for the same IPL team. So we talk a lot about batting and he has always helped me."
Rahul has recovered from his illness now and is back to training at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. He says the main focus for him ahead of the next international season is to get "fitter and stronger."
"I'll take it one match at a time and don't want to think too far ahead and put pressure on myself," he said. "Definitely, it is a good opportunity as all the (upcoming) Test matches are in India or the subcontinent where the conditions are batting friendly. It will be challenging because we will play good international sides. I have used this time away to work on my skills where I was lacking and looking to get better and do well in the Test matches coming ahead."
After a poor start to his international career in Melbourne, where he was dismissed for 3 & 1 on Test debut, Rahul bounced back with a century in his second Test at Sydney at the start of the year. The 23-year old admitted he felt "100 kgs lighter" after that performance, having played a couple of poor shots that led to his dismissals on debut.
"It is surprising that Melbourne keeps popping up in my head more often than Sydney," he said. "I keep watching that innings [in Sydney] - 270 odd balls - and feel like I did something really well. That is what I had planned, not to play a lot of shots and play within myself and give myself a chance by spending a lot of time in the middle and wait for the bowlers to make mistakes. I stuck to my plan and did not do anything fancy and did not play any rash strokes. So it was a very satisfying knock not because it was my first international hundred but because I went out there and executed my plan."
Having finished among the leading run-scorers in the Ranji Trophy over the last couple of seasons, Rahul has been considered only for Test cricket so far. Although he averages over 41 in his 28 List A (50-over games), his T20 returns are more modest. In the IPL, Rahul has scored 328 runs in his 25 matches, making many bracket him as a long-form specialist. It is a notion he intends to change.
"I did really well in my first year of domestic one day cricket," Rahul said. "I was among the top-three run-getters and I enjoy playing the shorter format of the game. I am still young and new to international cricket and there is a lot to learn. Shorter formats are something I'm working on. I am sure that the confidence that I get from scoring a lot of runs in four-day cricket can be carried over to the shorter formats and I'm confident that I can be successful there like I have been in days cricket and Test matches."
Over the next few weeks, Rahul intends to simply find the groove in his batting again. Once the feet are moving to his liking again, and the ball is finding the middle of the bat, the focus will shift towards specific skills training. The illness that forced him out of the Test in Bangladesh was unfortunate, but Rahul has already left the disappointment behind.
"As a player, you just have to tell yourself that there are better things to come," he says. "Keep yourself motivated and look to the next season and score more runs."
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75