CHENNAI: ‘Basics’. That’s what Samuel Jayaraj utters, when asked about KL Rahul’s transformation. Having seen a young Rahul train at his academy in Mangaluru, Jayaraj vouches how his ward was certainly not the most talented growing up, but is also adamant how the 26-year-old is entering a phase where it is only a matter of time before he walks out to open for India across all formats. But, when you ask him about Rahul’s sparkling run in the ongoing IPL where he has amassed 652 runs playing scintillating shots till now, Jayaraj doesn’t seem so elated.
“He can do more,” the 51-year-old says. “The shots you talk about (paddle and reverse scoops) have all come into his book because his basics are strong. In the last two-three years, he has learnt from the likes of David Warner, Tom Moody, Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and ABD on how to adapt and evolve as a cricketer. It’s a necessity these days and he plays these shots only when the situation demands. He believes in playing orthodox shots, but only if it gets to a point where you have to out-think the bowler, he brings out these shots.”
For a player who on current form will walk into any side irrespective of the format, it is puzzling that Rahul might not be the first-choice opener when India take on Afghanistan in a Test next month. He was even overlooked for the first Test in South Africa, despite being the standout performer the previous season. But the Centurion Test, where he played uncharacteristic shots and failed, seems to have drilled in him the virtues of working harder.
“He came back from South Africa and was determined to turn things around. He is not the type who would get bogged down, and instead analyses why it happened and works even harder. There is a lot of calmness in him, which at times is not natural for his age, but he knows the struggles that his family has endured to make him a cricketer and their sacrifices,” Jayaraj adds.
The only change Rahul has brought to his game is bat as long as possible. To send the message across, Jayaraj seems to have cited examples from his age-group days, when Rahul’s teams were dependent on him. “Though he had added lot of shots to his repertoire, I’ve been telling him to bat as long as possible even in T20s. I’ve seen him do that in U-14 days when he scored back-to-back double centuries. He threw away his wicket in South Africa and was gutted. The challenge for him now is to remain not out,” Jayaraj reveals.
For all you know, Rahul, after failing agonisingly short of against Mumbai Indians despite a brilliant 94 on Wednesday, would have visited a Sai Baba shrine — a custom he follows irrespective of the Indian city he is in. He also spends time analysing how to take his game forward. For a player whose foundations were built on playing in the ‘V’, Rahul has scored 151 runs off 50 balls in the ‘V’ behind the wicket in this IPL at an incredible strike rate of just over 300, which includes 11 sixes in that area. These are uncommon traits for a Test opener. But then, this team of Jayaraj and Rahul has made sure that the latter does not stop learning.