During the lockdown, KL Rahul had the occasional nightmare about losing his batting skills. The what-if scenarios scared him but those five months also helped him assess what he did well in the past, what he needed to change, and also made him grateful for what he has. Before going to the UAE to play in the IPL, Rahul spoke about his lockdown fears and hopes for the near future. Excerpts:
How did you handle the lockdown days?
It was very difficult as it went along but early on, it seemed like a break from cricket, some well-deserved rest as we all thought it would last a month. But once the lockdown extended and it became difficult to train or even go out, it began to change. But when you see so many less-privileged people struggling and going through lots more trouble, you realise that your troubles weren’t much. We are sitting at home with family – it was a blessing and luxury not available to many. It was difficult to see all that suffering. The lockdown taught us to be grateful for what we have, to our loved ones, and for all the opportunities we have got.
With so much time at your disposal, did negative thoughts creep in?
I did get anxious sitting at home. My fear was that I would get lazy, so I trained at home during the day. I made a plan for a day and tried to stick to it. But initially, I didn’t bother as I felt I deserved to be lazy and that I can wake up at whatever time I want to. Even if I didn’t train, it was acceptable for me because my body needed that break after years. Later on, though, I told myself I needed to plan my day, be it doing household work or getting up at a particular time. Most days, I stuck to my plan. I didn’t want to waste my time watching TV. I cooked, walked my dog and designed clothes for my brand.
Once or twice I did have sleepless nights thinking what if once I get back to playing cricket, I am not the same player. That was a bit scary but luckily in Bengaluru, we got a few practice sessions and that made me feel good.
How did you feel in your first few batting sessions post lockdown?
Couple of nights, I had nightmares. I woke up with the feeling, ‘oh s**t, what if I can’t pick line and length of the ball? What if I become slower? What if I don’t have the same cover drive as before?’ All these question marks were there. And the first session didn’t help: all those fears came true. I batted so badly in that session it was scary. But after three sessions, I started to feel better and it made me happy.
You are going to lead Kings XI Punjab. What does captaincy mean to you? Is there any template that you follow?
I always played the game thinking as if I’m the captain. At the ground, I always think of what I would have done in a particular situation. Whom I would have bowled in a situation? I was always proactive in my head and it’s just an extension of that. I know it will be harder than I think. I am not going in with any expectations, like I have played cricket so many years. I will get on the field and try to make decisions in the moment. You can’t plan too much because it could be confusing.
Did you learn from watching captains like Dhoni, Virat or Rohit?
Yes, yes. Dhoni’s calmness and belief showed in backing players who had the potential to be matchwinners. Virat’s passion in the way he leads, the way he wants the boys to be better and better. Rohit always plays with a passion and backs players.
What was your reaction when you heard about Dhoni’s retirement?
Like the rest of the country I too was emotional, we all would have wanted to play some more cricket with him. As I said, his calmness was insane and valuable in the dressing room.
Now in his absence, are you looking for more opportunities behind the stumps?
I enjoyed whatever challenge was thrown at me for the last seven-eight months. Be it playing a different role or to bat at any position. Whatever the team needs me to do, I will do it.
Will you be keeping in the IPL?
Yes, I will love to do wicketkeeping. We have so many options of wicketkeeper-batsmen, if I feel I need more time or need to be on the field to manage. Standing behind the stumps is a good way to do it as one gets a full 360-degree view, it’s easy to know what is happening. It’s a good place to be.
What will be your biggest challenge in the UAE?
It will be difficult and different. This is the best we can do, considering the situation. Honestly, we are not worried now about the bio-bubble or lack of spectators. We have to adapt to the situation and it’s a good story to tell 15-20 years down the line. We need to utilise the three-week training period there well.
How did the session with Anil Kumble go?
He was asking how I was feeling and what other players were feeling, how is our mindset. We spoke about how to remove early nerves from the players and give them confidence.
In this long break, did you introspect on your Test match batting?
Not really. I did sit and think about what I was doing right for the past six-seven months, what were the problem areas and though I didn’t come to any conclusions, I made a mental note that these are the things which are helping me perform consistently and these are the things which are not helping me perform consistently.
How do you see your team’s chances in this IPL?
I look at it is as a challenge. We are a way better team than what the results show. People’s perceptions only change when we start winning games. It’s a newish line-up, we have impact players, a lot of skill players and a young new captain. We will not carry the baggage of previous years, we will learn from it, try to correct our mistakes. And what will happen will happen.
And finally, how many pairs of shoes do you own? The other day, Shreyas Iyer posted a pic of more than a hundred!
I certainly have more than that, for sure. I love shopping. I have my own clothing line. I enjoy doing these things because it helps me switch off from cricket. It’s exciting to design clothes.