Steady climber Lokesh Rahul reaches the top with trip Down Under

Twin tons in the Duleep Trophy final gave the selectors reason to pick Rahul as the third opener.

Written by Nihal Koshie | New Delhi | Updated: November 11, 2014 1:30 pm
KL Rahul scored back-to-back tons in the Duleep Trophy final (Source: Express File) KL Rahul scored back-to-back tons in the Duleep Trophy final (Source: Express File)

Had it not been for a confusion in his father’s mind, KL Rahul would have been KL Rohan. Dr KN Lokesh, a Mangalore-based academician and a cricket nut, somehow thought that Sunil Gavaskar’s son was called Rahul.

And it was this wrong assumption that saw the Gavaskar-fan give the same name to his son. A few days later the father realised his gaffe.

“By then it was too late, the birth certificate was made. But now I think Rahul has done rather well for himself,” says Lokesh. He has. Chances are that during the Australia series, Rahul, like Gavaskar, can open the innings for India in Tests.

Rahul makes it to the tour party on the back of a mountain of runs he compiled on the domestic circuit. Opening the innings for Karnataka last season Rahul, 22, scored 1,033 runs, a tally which included three centuries, including 131 in the final against Maharashtra. The numbers are more impressive if you consider that he was dropped from the Karnataka squad after his debut season (2010-11) and also missed out on a year because of a back injury.

The timing of his big knocks couldn’t have been better. Centuries in each innings of the Duleep Trophy final, while opening the innings for South Zone, less than a week before the squad for the four-Test series in Australia was to be picked, gave the selectors reason to pick Rahul as the third opener —ahead of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag.

Early promise

But the phenomenal Duleep showing isn’t the only reason for Rahul’s elevation. It has been a gradual climb for the batsman, who has been the stand-out performer at every age-group competition he participated.

Since the day he first appeared for an under-13 selection district trial and failed to make the team, Rahul has made steady, if not spectacular, progress. “Dad took time to admit me to formal coaching. He was pressurised by all the neighbors because we were breaking windows at the National Institute of Technology Karnataka (NITK) campus in Surathkal,” Rahul says.

Lokesh, a former dean and the head of the engineering department at NITK, took him to coach Samuel Jayraj. “I and my wife (Rajeswari) are academicians. He was good at academics and I wanted him to become an engineer. In Class X, he got 90 per cent. But when he wanted to pursue B.Com because of his cricket commitments, I let him go ahead,” says the father.

His coach Jayraj recalls the day after the 11-year-old was not selected at the Under-13 trials. “He was the first to report for coaching at 2:30 pm. Even before I had arrived. He was determined to get selected at the next trials,” Jayraj says, while driving home the point that discipline has defined Rahul.

Tough journey

The hardships that Rahul had to face in the pursuit of passion are not limited to the 20 kilometre bus ride from school in Surathkal to the academy. Later he would shuttle between Bangalore and Mangalore as his cricket pursuits took him to the state capital. The coaches always gave special attention to the committed boy.

“He was shorter than most boys back then, so we asked him to keep wickets too. Being a wicket-keeper from an early age helped him develop a habit of watching the ball closely and watching the bowler’s hand. In a way, being a wicket-keeper helped him when he started opening the innings,” Jayraj says.

The wicket-keeper batsman was god-sent for the Jayraj-coached junior side that always had good fast bowlers and spinners. Soon he became the rock of the side. “If Rahul was dismissed cheaply we would be all out for less than 100. The team banked on him to score runs to such an extent that he had to take twos or hit boundaries and take a single off the last delivery of an over to retain strike. Because of Rahul, Mangalore started beating the bigger teams like Bangalore,” the coach says.

When Rahul took his first steps towards making a name for himself outside his home town, he caught the attention of his namesake.

Rahul Dravid was at the Chinnaswamy Stadium when KL Rahul scored a double century in an Under-13 match for Mangalore. Dravid asked me about this young boy and told me to ‘take good care of him’. I realised that if Dravid had taken note then Rahul was on the right path,” said the proud coach.

Spiritual side

Dravid’s influence has rubbed off. “The thought of achieving your dream, getting a Test cap, wearing the Indian team’s blue jersey is what pushes me, motivates me. It is hard but you know, it is something you want and it pushes me to do better and never be satisfied with what I have done or with how many runs I have got,” Rahul says.

There is also a spiritual side to this player from the IPL-generation. When in Bangalore, Rahul is at the Shirdi Sai Baba temple in RT Nagar every Thursday evening. “I started going to the temple with one of my friends, who is a devotee. I felt at peace and it became a ritual. I feel in a good place and feel calm.”

His devotion to run-making is equally steadfast. After becoming the second highest run-getter (behind Kedar Jadhav) in the 2013-14 Ranji Trophy season, Rahul didn’t pat himself on the back.

“After I got some time off at the end of the previous season, my coach and I realised that 1,033 looks big but I could have got much more runs if I had converted all my starts. At times, I somehow lose my way or focus after getting a start. We worked on controlling my mind and achieving small goals and targets.”

On Tuesday, Rahul achieved a big goal and a massive target.

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