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IPL 2019: Mental approach, not technique, to blame for dip in game - KL Rahul

Marred by injuries and poor form, he didn’t consolidated his place in the limited-overs teams. In Tests, Rahul was on top of his game until the home series against Australia in March 2017, playing crucial knocks in India’s comeback 2-1 win.

cricket Updated: Apr 29, 2019 08:57 IST
Abhishek Paul
Abhishek Paul
Hindustan Times, Hyderabad
IPL 2019,KL Rahul,IPL
File image of KL Rahul(PTI)

“2016 was a very, very special year,” said KL Rahul, talking about the time he promised to take off in Indian cricket. Blessed with good technique and temperament, the Karnataka batsman seemed poised for great things.

“That year, I made it to the ODI team as well as the T20 team. I played all three formats for India in 2016. Also, I scored close to 400 runs in IPL for Royal Challengers Bangalore,” the 27-year-old added.

In 2016, he became the first Indian to score a ton on ODI debut, and one of the few in the world to hit a century in all formats. The bumpy ride began the next year.

Marred by injuries and poor form, he didn’t consolidated his place in the limited-overs teams. In Tests, Rahul was on top of his game until the home series against Australia in March 2017, playing crucial knocks in India’s comeback 2-1 win.

However, a shoulder injury in that series that needed surgery started a testing phase for Rahul. He had a record seven consecutive Test half-centuries in 2017, across the Australia and Sri Lanka series that followed, in all nine across seven matches.

But he looked unsettled on comeback. Maybe not converting fifties into centuries affected him. In the ODI series that followed the Sri Lanka Tests, Rahul looked lost as he was slotted in the middle-order. Forced to face spin first up, particularly the versatile Akila Dananjaya, Rahul was clueless. The confidence had been dented.

Though he scored a century in the final Test in England last year, he was shaky against swing in the series. The Indian team management was running out of patience. In Australia, batting coach Sanjay Bangar, during a warm-up match ahead of the first Test in Adelaide late last year, said: “He is finding new ways to get out…he is not a young player anymore.”

However, Rahul’s ability and record were key factors (he hit 149 in the Oval Test last year after scoring 101 not out in the first T20I at Old Trafford) in the selectors including him in the World Cup squad.

Rahul said his focus was more to blame for his lows. “I am not a believer that technique has anything to do with how you play. Maybe sometimes your technique does not help you do well in a few conditions; otherwise, it’s mostly mental preparation, how mentally fresh you are and how much excited you are to play the game. It’s disappointing when you don’t do well, but you have to pick yourself up for the next game,” he said in an interview.

And playing is the best preparation. “There is so much technology right now, so much video footage available for us to watch how other teams are planning, (what) the opposition bowlers are trying to do. But when you step out on the field, it’s a different feel under pressure, and in (those) conditions,” he said.

Having scored his first IPL century and four half-centuries for Kings XI Punjab this season, Rahul said it will help in the World Cup. “Look, they are two tournaments, two different formats, so can’t really think about World Cup when you are playing T20 cricket,” he said. “(But) if I do well here and score a lot of runs, I go into the World Cup with a confident mindset, which is great.”

Rahul wants to finish more games for KXIP. “I have won a few more (this season). Last year, I played well (he made 659 runs in 14 matches), but wasn’t staying not out and finishing games. I took my team closer a few times, but couldn’t get my side over the line. This time I have tried to remain not out till the end.”

He also wants to improve his ability to read the game. “With experience, players learn use their game in a way which benefits the team. Two to three years of international cricket has taught me to pace my innings better, apart from making me confident. That is a big plus for me.”

However, learning never stops. “A player should always look to improve, like R Ashwin (KXIP skipper). He is learning as a player and captain,” he said. “Hopefully, together we can help our team notch a couple of wins to qualify for the playoffs.”

First Published: Apr 29, 2019 08:57 IST