IPL 2016 May 27, 2016

In our heads, we have already won the IPL - Rahul


KL Rahul explained that all Royal Challengers were concerned about was expressing themselves and executing their plans © BCCI

On May 11, Royal Challengers Bangalore were beaten at home by Mumbai Indians. Virat Kohli was candid about the path ahead. "We're literally playing the knockouts now," he said then. "You can't relax in this situation, you literally have to win every game from here. It's going to take a lot of character."

Two weeks later, Royal Challengers became the first finalist of IPL 2016 when they beat Gujarat Lions at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Qualifier 1. Kohli's men have not just shown character, but a winning mentality that has put them in the pole position even before the second finalist has been decided.

There is no harm repeating this: Royal Challengers won just two of their first seven matches. They have won seven out of eight games since. Virat Kohli (5), AB de Villiers (4) and Shane Watson have (1) have accumulated 10 Man-of-the-Match awards, the most by any team this IPL.

"In our heads, we have already won [the IPL]," KL Rahul said at an informal media briefing, two days ahead of the final. "To come back from where we were and be in the top-two is a big achievement in itself. And the confidence we have in the team is sky-high."

There was no trace of arrogance in Rahul's statement. Usually, when at the cusp of something this big, players, captains and coaches play defensive. They warn themselves of the 'what if' scenario and prefer keeping quiet. But Kohli's men have not shied away from being bold. After all, the team's motto has been to 'Play Bold'.

Playing his second season for the Royal Challengers, Rahul is the team's third-highest run-maker behind you-know-the-two. In his first stint, in 2013, Rahul batted just twice in five matches. He played for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the previous two seasons, but failed to make a telling statement.

In 25 IPL matches before this season, Rahul had no fifty. This year, Rahul has four fifties, the first three being consecutive ones. He has the best strike rate (147.32) and average (48.25) among all wicketkeepers in the tournament. He is the first Royal Challengers glovesman to score 300-plus runs in an IPL season.

Rahul explained how the players built and carried forward the belief once they started winning consistently. "Once you start winning, you stop thinking about what if and what if we do this wrong, what if we don't click. Your mind is always thinking about, no, look, we have won the last few games, we have that confidence in the team," he said. "We go out with the approach saying that we are going to win this. There is never a doubt in our minds. Even right now, in our heads we have already won the tournament. It is just about going there and expressing ourselves and putting our plans into place on Sunday. That is all we are thinking about right now."

Not just Kohli and de Villiers, but the entire Royal Challengers outfit has displayed remarkable confidence in high-pressure situations. Kohli is famous for walking the talk, but lesser mortals like Rahul, Sachin Baby and Stuart Binny have pitched in with their due whenever the opportunity has presented itself.

Kohli has been ruthless in demanding only the best from his players. Mid-way into the tournament, he did not blink before dropping Chris Gayle who was facing a form slump. Kohli said he couldn't afford to hide a prodigal talent like Sarfaraz Khan, who was being exposed in the field.

His players would not sulk. After all, Royal Challengers have played the pretenders ever since IPL 's inception in 2008. They made the final twice, but finished second. This time too, when the journey started, the motive was to win the tournament.

"It is all about getting in that frame of mind to believe that we can win from any situation,"Binny, one of the three Karnataka players, along with Rahul and S Aravind, said. "That was the key in a lot of the games, everyone put their hands up. We never had only two or three guys putting their hands up. We had Rahul winning few. We had Virat winning majority of them. We had Gayle who stood up in a virtual quarter-final game. Even Sachin Baby played a couple of cameos in the middle [order], which actually took us to where we are. It is the quiet confidence that takes us into the final."

In the penultimate practice session, before the big final, Kohli's men were all at ease. There was nothing special that was evident in their training. Unlike other teams, there has been no motivational speaker or mentor who has been called upon to address the players. Keep it simple and do your job has been Royal Challengers coach Daniel Vettori's only message.

Binny agreed. "We are not going to put too much pressure on ourselves. We are just going to try and carry the momentum that we have had in the last seven games into this game. Look, we have an upperhand playing here at home for sure. We know the conditions, we know exactly what needs to be done. I wouldn't' call it pressure. I would just call it good confidence."

Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Madhusudhan on May 29, 2016, 19:11 GMT

    Its not enough to win in your head. Go to middle and win it. Don't ever make this statement again in your life.

  • Shaik Ali on May 28, 2016, 18:27 GMT

    Don't want to hear tomorrow before the start of the match that Rahul is ruled out of the match due to head ache... Just enjoy folks in the right spirit

  • Shaik Ali on May 28, 2016, 18:18 GMT

    Although it will be a great contest... Pressure is more on RCB to win at home and people are least expecting SRH to win the title which could be a deciding factor... Even before play offs started biggest of experts wrote off SRH but every one can see the results... Remember SRH already beat RCB once in this tournament.. So nothing is invincible

  • Ali on May 28, 2016, 18:16 GMT

    Oh yeah! Let Rahul and the entire RCB win the IPL in their heads! SRH will do the hard yards and win it on the ground!

  • NARASIMHA on May 28, 2016, 16:55 GMT

    @Nampally- Head is the main part of the body that plays the game. Rahul feeling confident about his team is already worrying some SRH fans! There is no dearth of skill or will in RCB's arsenal. We just need a bit of luck that we lacked in the past seasons, which is what we will get tomorrow! Go RCB go ! You are the champs IPL 9!!

  • NARASIMHA on May 28, 2016, 16:49 GMT

    People calling RCB to be dependent on top 3 should wake up and realize SRH is 1 man army! If RCB gets him quickly it will derail their batting! RCB play bold and win IPL 9 !

  • S on May 28, 2016, 16:36 GMT

    When Lokesh Rahul started playing for Karnataka one noticed a quiet, confident young man who was keen on making his bat talk rather than his mouth. He seemed like someone steady in the head who was is in it for the long haul and not too easily pleased with short term achievements like the Pandyas of Mumbai. Rahul must remember no one remembers who was in the finals and how they got there but only the winners. This yogi bera classic comes to mind "It aint over till it is over".

  • cool on May 28, 2016, 16:29 GMT

    KL Rahul should be more worried about his wicket keeping ability rather than playing mind games now. He got so luckythat he can rely on top 3 batsmen if he fails. What was he doing when he got chance to play for Sunrisers, where was this attitude then. It's simple if u have no assurance in the middle yiu tend to get more tensed & don't perform, except that this rule doesn't apply for Kohli or Warner. ABD is good at chocking , so is Gayle . All back & square on kohlis shoulders,l. BK is gonna get Gayle & ABD early tom , he has point to prove to the selectors,and from there on its all catch up for RCB. I hope this is what Sunrisers think tanks strategy is. Nothing to loose for SRH, they punched beyond their weight to cross two barriers , they will enjoy this game as much as possible . Luck favors the Brave at the end.Lets see who gets chickened out in the end .

  • Ashok on May 28, 2016, 15:49 GMT

    You don't win matches in your head, Rahul. You win it on the field. So stop dreaming! T20 is a game of high stakes. which can swing just in a matter of few balls or just a single mistake. Also it is the performance on the field of each player on the Match day that matters. SRH pulled this victory over GL from 113 for 6 chasing 162 total with 6 overs left. It appeared "Mission impossible" but they did it with 4 balls to spare. SRH may be underdogs but are talented to upset the best of the teams. Just like RCB came from no where to the top of IPL, SRH lost the last 2 games to lose the #1 spot. So it will be a real battle Royale! SRH may shock RCB in their own kitchen or be vanquished. In the words of Yogi Bera: It is not over till its OVER!

  • NARASIMHA on May 28, 2016, 15:03 GMT

    Rahul is just stating their team's mindset and feeling confident. What's wrong with feeling good and confident ? These days everything is scrutinized unnecessarily. RCB has been playing bold and beautiful! Go RCB go and win the IPL 9! We are with you guys!

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