India batsman KL Rahul has said the 2016 IPL season was the "key moment" for him to start believing in his abilities as a short-format batsman. Rahul scored 397 runs in 14 matches this season at a strike rate of 146.49 for Royal Challengers Bangalore. He also hit 16 sixes in the season to finish joint fifth on the list of most sixes. He had hit only five sixes in the previous IPL season.
Rahul went on to earn a call up to the Indian ODI and T20 squads. He smashed a century in Zimbabwe on his ODI debut and produced a spectacular assault in Florida against West Indies that nearly took India to victory in pursuit of the highest successful T20I chase. He is now one of only three Indians, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma being the other two, to have made an international century in all three formats of the game.
"This year's IPL was the key moment for me to start believing in myself and my shorter format abilities," Rahul told ESPNcricinfo. "Once people saw it, they started believing it too. I think it is very important when your own team-mates start believing that you have the game. I always knew I could play the shorter format but it was about putting a few performances there. A couple of good innings and I knew I will start believing a lot more in myself, so yes it worked out well for me this summer."
Besides his spectacular form in the shorter formats, Rahul has also produced impressive performances in Test cricket. Replacing Murali Vijay, who injured his thumb, in the second Test of the recently-concluded series against West Indies, Rahul struck 158 in India's first innings total of 500. It was his third Test century. He followed up the ton in Jamaica with a brisk half century in the Third Test in St. Lucia.
Rahul is now expected to be India's first-choice opener in the upcoming series against New Zealand, starting on September 22 in Kanpur. Rahul said the reason for his success has been in "keeping things simple" irrespective of the format. He also credited his Test and Royal Challengers captain Virat Kohli for being an "inspiration" both on and off the field.
"We feel lucky we don't have to look too far, the guy who inspires you is sitting right next to you in the dressing room," he said. "The level of commitment that he (Kohli) has shown, the discipline and work ethics, the way he has been so disciplined with his fitness, nutrition and diet, that is something that has inspired all of us. If you come into the dressing room now you see how all the boys are so disciplined. He's helped me in shaping my career. When I came into Test cricket, I was good but not as good as I am now. Virat has helped me with my preparation, mindset and he has given me a lot of confidence.
"It is really strange but there is no mental switch that I make. If you saw the innings in St. Lucia, I got a 50 in 56 balls (65) or something opening the innings when the ball was doing a little bit. I try to keep things very simple. I go into the field, try to assess the pitch and the situation, see what are the best shots I can play and what is the best approach to have on that day."
While playing for Royal Challengers, Rahul was also given the task of keeping wickets. Having performed the role in junior cricket as well, Rahul said he will be ready if asked to keep for India.
"I know this (wicket-keeping) challenge can be thrown at me, that's why I have started working a lot harder on my fitness because keeping will demand different sort of fitness," he said. "If I have to keep and bat, it will take a lot out of my body. So I have started to train harder and focus on eating right and whatever helps recover my body, I am trying to take care of that. It helps to have great support staff to look after you, they guide as well. I am sure the gloves will come on at some point. I will be ready and I will enjoy that too."
Read KL Rahul's full interview here.