CHENNAI: When the MSK Prasad-led selection panel dropped KL Rahul from the Test side for the home series against South Africa in 2019, the message was simple. Runs and runs alone will get him back his spot in the Tests.
Even though he part of the limited-overs side, he didn't get enough opportunities to play red-ball cricket, barring the semifinal against Bengal in 2019-20.
That hasn't changed, the pandemic has meant Rahul had to work elsewhere to address his shortcomings.
Whatever time he had in between limited-overs assignments, Rahul worked extensively with his coach Samuel Jayaraj in Bengaluru. Much of the focus, though, was on going back to basics. "Nothing," Jayaraj said in response to what changes he has made to his batting technique. "We just went back to basics which is to play close to the body and as late as possible."
The two had even analysed Rahul's visuals and found there wasn't any need to tweak his technique. With the runs drying up, Rahul's confidence had taken a hit. As for form, Jayaraj and the opener believed it was just a phase.
"If you have strong basics and if your technique and skill set is top-class, you can change your game anytime. I would say it is basically the mindset that has changed. Once you mature, the mind takes over. He is matured now and knows what is expected of him. If you notice, he has been playing late and close to the body. There is nothing called out of form or in form. It is all about determination and showing commitment," Jayaraj said.
In fact, right through his knock of 84 at Trent Bridge, Rahul has showed great restraint in playing away from the body. After the middle-order wobble on Thursday, he steadied the ship on Day Three with Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja to take India to a position of strength.After Rahul's 84, Jadeja's 56 and contributions from the tail took India to 278 and a first-innings lead of 95. Rain brought an early end to Day 3 with England placed 25/0.
"Last time in England he didn't do well. Now there is a purpose to do well. In England, you just have to forget what happened in the previous ball. Be it a boundary or what ever it is, you have to get it out of your mind. Take it one ball at a time. Switch off. Then on to the next ball. Enjoy it," Jayaraj said.
Ahead of the Test match, if Mayank Agarwal hadn't been ruled out of the Test, Rahul would have warmed the bench. Though he had scored a century in a warm-up fixture, the team-management was looking to accommodate him in the middle-order during the course of the series. Coming down the order isn't new to Rahul, he has already done that in ODIs, where he has emerged as an enforcer at No 5.
"All his career he played as an opener and it takes time to adjust to a new role. Initially, there was a lapse. But he took it in his stride. He said 'ok, I'm going to bat here and how am I going to make the most of it.'
Whether you open or bat at No 4, 5 or 6, it is all about batting. So once you grow as a batsman, you should be able to do any role assigned to you," Jayaraj said.
During this period, Jayaraj sees the one significant change that Rahul has made is to what he does off the field. From food habits to cutting the noise off, Rahul has also now learnt how to switch on and off. It is the one crucial addition to his game plan, which he has done to ensure he is calmer in the middle. It will help in streamlining the thought process and decision-making.
"He is not a youngster anymore. He knows he has to contribute consistently for the team. Right from his younger days, he has done well. That is something we spoke about. Gave him lot of examples about what he did when he was younger and how he made runs when our team was in trouble. It is all about giving him the positivity," Jayaraj added.