That life is full of irony, is an amazing fact. Even so, the KL Rahul narrative has a twist that would probably do a movie script writer proud.
KN Lokesh, Rahul’s father, was a college-level cricketer in Bangalore. His idol was Sunil Gavaskar, India’s legendary, record-breaking opening batsman. Lokesh hero-worshipped Gavaskar to the extent that when Rahul was born, he decided to name him after Gavaskar’s son. Except that the professor in the Civil Engineering Department at National Institute of Technology, Suratkal mistakenly believed Gavaskar’s son’s name was Rahul, rather than Rohan!
The twist, unimaginable for Lokesh in the 1980s, is that he now gets to hear his hero, Gavaskar, lavish praise on his son’s exploits on what was Gavaskar’s favourite stomping ground, the Caribbean islands. Had he been a West Indian, Lokesh would probably have been moved sufficiently to write a calypso of this scenario!
The best part of Kannaur Lokesh Rahul’s third century in only his sixth Test at the famed Sabina Park in Kingston, was his underlying ability to seize the slightest of opportunities to make a mark. It is a trait that has stood the 24-year-old batsman in good stead right through his young and potentially brilliant career.
His coach from his school days in Mangaluru, Jairaj Muthu says that Rahul was the team’s only batsman. Thus, he was instructed to bat at both ends. He would ensure he stayed on strike for five balls every over and then steal a single off the sixth. This way be batted at both ends.
“The days he managed this we would have a total in excess of 100 and press for victory. At other times, if he got out cheaply, we would be routed. But Rahul rarely let the team down. He could bat with great responsibility and purpose even during those days,” he recalled.
Rahul was below the statutory age of 12 when he landed up at the Karnataka State Cricket Association’s Academy selection trials at Mangaluru. KSCA had a system of having these trials all over the state in an effort to spot and nurture talent at grass root level.
Young Rahul was permitted a knock at the nets although he did not qualify because of his tender age. He impressed the selectors instantly but because of his age they could not choose him.
“We called up Brijesh Patel (former Test cricketer and secretary of KSCA) and apprised him of the dilemma,” said Makrand Waingankar, driving force behind KSCA’s Talent Resources Development Scheme.
“Brijesh came up with the perfect solution: Stick with the parameters, but ask the boy to attend nets. He won’t be enrolled till he turns 12, but he can avail all facilities until then,” he recalled.
The organised set-up and the challenge of playing with bigger boys helped Rahul improve by leaps and bounds. He was a wicket-keeper cum middle-order batsman those days and enjoyed both roles.
Presently, during the Under-13 zonal matches in Bangalore he scored two double centuries. As fate would have it, his idol Rahul Dravid had come to KSCA Stadium to do his physical training and saw KL Rahul scoring his double ton. He spoke to him after the day’s play and this so electrified the lad that he promptly emulated his idol’s training methods.
“KL Rahul was not an opening batsman. But he was smart enough to realise that with his technique and temperament he’d have more opportunities as an opener,” recalled Waingankar.
It was around this time that his parents, both academicians, Dr KN Lokesh at NIT and mother Prof Rajeshwari Lokesh, lecturer in University College of Mangalore hoped he would pursue his studies in science. Rahul opted for commerce instead and shifted to Bangalore to further hone his cricketing skills.
“The good thing was his hunger for success,” said Karnataka Ranji Trophy cricket coach J Arun Kumar, former opening batsman of some ability. “He desperately yearned for the big time and had the game, discipline and ability to go with it.” he added.
“In his rookie year we had told him that Lahli (Haryana) would be his challenge. If he came good on that seamer's pitch he would have overcome every challenge at home. Under the circumstances, Rahul scored a brilliant 98 in a total of 256. The manner in which he stretched out to play the seaming ball was remarkable. I knew right then he had it in him to develop big time,” said JAK.
However, cricket at the highest level is all about handling pressure. Temperament rather than technique is pushed and probed by seasoned international masters. Under such intense scrutiny only champions can rise to the challenge.
It is in this context that Rahul’s remarkable three centuries abroad – against Australia in Australia in only his second Test, against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka and now against West Indies in Jamaica, sets him apart. He has shown that he has the ability to soak into the pressure and feed off it. Over the next few years as he further widens his horizon this trait will be relentlessly probed time and again.
How well Rahul copes with it will determine the extent of his success.
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Updated Date: Aug 01, 2016 11:36:43 IST