On Monday noon when the national selectors sat together to pick the team for the Test series Down Under, 22-year old KL Rahul was playing for South Zone in the Interstate one-day league. It was not until the game’s first drinks break that one of his teammates gave him the news that he was a part of the Indian Test squad to tour Australia. There was no sense of over-enthusiasm or immediate euphoria. What followed after that moment was just another regular day on the field for Rahul. “It didn’t really sink in at that moment because it was an important time in the game and I didn’t have time to focus on the news,” explains Rahul. “When the game ended, that is when I felt happy,” he admits. (Also Read: INDIA SQUAD FOR TEST SERIES IN AUSTRALIA 2014-15)
Over the past 24 hours, Rahul has been busy answering calls, acknowledging good wishes from friends and family and slowly absorbing the moment that he has dreamt of; the moment that he has woken up to thinking about every single day. Amidst all the buzz and a phone that refuses to stop ringing, Team India’s new Test entrant spoke to BCCI.TV about his dream come true moment and the possibilities of facing a fiery Mitchell Johnson. (Also Read: Australia vs India Test Series - Schedule & Fixtures)
Excerpts from the interview
How much do you value this opportunity? How would you describe this feeling?
This is BIG for someone who gets a call up to the Indian Test team for the first time in his life and who has dreamt about it for the last twenty years. I have woken up everyday thinking about playing Test cricket for the country with the best and this is a dream come true. I don’t have words to describe how much this weighs but it definitely means a lot to me. It is one of the biggest days in my life till now. It is a big day for me and my family. Representing the country is a dream that every cricketer has when he starts off playing cricket. I have been getting a lot of calls but I called my parents and spoke to them first. My Karnataka teammates were the first ones to know about my selection.
Still very early days in your cricketing career but does it come as a surprise that you are being picked for such a big tour at such a young age?
Not really, I am very happy that the selectors have showed faith in me and think that I am good enough to go abroad and perform for my country. I am really happy that they have given me this opportunity. I have been working really hard in the off-season keeping in mind the Australian tour. I always wanted to be ready if I get a chance. It will be a really challenging tour but I am very sure I am going to enjoy the challenge.
Did your twin tons in the Duleep Trophy Final give you a sense that this could well be a ticket to the Australian tour?
Yes, it was in the back of my mind. The selections were nearing and I knew for a fact that this was the last game where I could try and make an impact. I took it as a big opportunity. The wicket in the Duleep Trophy Final was a good one and I was batting really well. I didn’t want to miss out on it and I am glad that I did very well in that game.
Rahul Dravid showered praise for you and said you should be taken to Australia. How does it feel when a legend like him speaks about you with high regard?
I think I have been really lucky to have full support of legendary cricketers. Rahul bhai has backed me right since he has seen me from the U-15 times. He has always had an eye on me and helped me with my cricket. Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman said a few good things about me as well and it is a special feeling to hear greats talk about you. I have worked with Laxman sir in the Sunrisers Hyderabad camp as well and I have been grateful in a way that I could work with a legend like him.
You spoke about your stint with VVS Laxman in the IPL. You also had David Warner and Aaron Finch for company there; how much did you chew their brains to know about ways to be successful in Australia?
I am the kind of person who wouldn’t want to miss out an opportunity to ask questions to international cricketers. I used to talk a lot with Aaron Finch and shared a couple of partnerships with David Warner in the IPL. I understand that the best learning is out there in the middle when you see how they perform and when you talk to them. You learn a lot from such conversations and get to know what is going on in their minds during a match situation. I spoke a lot to them and to Dale Steyn as well. The IPL has been a fantastic experience for me in that aspect. It gives youngsters an opportunity to interact with modern day cricketers and I have personally taken a lot from my IPL stint with the Sunrisers Hyderabad. VVS Laxman has been a great influence and he used to talk a lot to me about my batting and worked on it closely.
What is that one striking thing that either Warner or Finch told you and has stayed with you?
There was one time when Finchy (Finch) looked at my batting style and told me that I would enjoy playing in Australian wickets. At that time I told him, ‘Hopefully I come along for the Test series and get some runs there’. He did tell me a few things about what has helped him with his batting and what he has worked on back home. It was a great learning experience both ways. The foreign players wanted to learn a thing or two about playing spin bowling and we wanted to learn about playing fast bowlers on bouncy wickets.
Talking about bouncy wickets what kind of conversations did you share with Dale Steyn?
I didn’t get to talk to him about playing on bouncy wickets etc but he did have some kind words to say about me. He is someone who came up to me and had a laugh after a practice session or play some football. It was good interacting with him and I kept wickets in a couple of games. It was interesting to see how he bowls and adapts to conditions. It was good to stay behind the stumps rather than face him (laughs).
How do you look at this Australia tour? What is the one thing that you are looking forward to from this Australia series?
I still haven’t had the time to sit down and write down my targets for the tour. I just look to go out there and enjoy my game. I am looking forward to learning a lot from the seniors and enjoying my time with the team. It will be quite an experience to get a feel of what international cricket is like; what is so different from other dressing rooms and what are the things that I need to do to be successful in the international level. I would want to go out there and give myself a little time to see what is required to excel. I am very excited to play alongside players like Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni. I have been watching all of them on TV and to share dressing rooms with them will be a special feeling.
You still have time for the series, how do you plan to prepare for it? What difference will you bring about in your practice patterns and training schedules?
I know that the Australian wickets are going to be bouncy and I have worked on my backfoot play. Nothing in specific though, and I have been going through my usual practice sessions that I have been doing since I started playing cricket. I have spent a lot of time on my fitness as well so that I am fit and ready for the challenges ahead.
Do you believe that you have the game and temperament to play in the big league?
I definitely believe in myself and I am confident I can do well there. It is just about keeping my head down, being calm and enjoying the challenge. I did go to Australia on a India A tour after the IPL and played a little bit in Brisbane and have played against most of them. It was a learning curve for me though we played a lot on slow wickets in Australia. I couldn’t get a feel of actual Australian wickets but honestly I am looking forward to this tour. Definitely I am not saying it is going to be easy but it is going to be challenging and there will be a lot of pressure. I am looking forward to it and I am very sure I am going to enjoy Australian conditions. I still have a couple of weeks to go before we fly off and I will look to train myself in such a way that I will be successful there. I don’t think I will have time to go through any emotions when you see the likes of Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle bowling at you. Your mind won’t be able to think a lot apart from just watching the ball and playing it.
This Indian Test side already has openers like M Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan. Do you think you can make it to that group?
That is not on my mind. I will go out there and play the same way I have been playing domestic cricket till now and not worry about when my chances will come; whether or not I will get my chance. I will just go there, work hard and make sure I will be prepared to do well when I get my chance.