After watching his ward Lokesh Rahul’s nightmarish international debut during the Boxing Day Test at MCG on television, Mangalore-based Samuel Jayraj thought that the family function planned in the evening would take his mind away from cricket. The 48-year-old had underestimated his family’s interest in cricket or Rahul. Everyone at the function wanted to talk about 22-year-old’s mindless heaves at Melbourne that had made him look out of place at the Test level. Even when Jayraj reached home, there was no respite. A relative would send him a message that read: “Sir, tell your boy not to play T20 in Test cricket. Only you can tell him.” Jayraj says, he resisted the temptation to relay these sentiments to his student. Instead, he sent a simple text to Rahul. “Be the best in whatever you do.” Promptly came the reply: “Thank You, Sir!”
Despite the doubts, the coach knew deep inside that Rahul had the technique to survive Test cricket. It was just the case of the occasion getting the better of the young cricketer, he believed. “He plays the horizontal bat shots only when he has settled. As for the pull and sweep, he plays those shots only after he crosses 40-50. At Melbourne, he was not playing the kind of game that has worked for him so far in his career,” says the coach.
In Australia, Rahul didn’t quite shut himself out from the criticism he was getting. His close friend and club mate, Sinan Abdul Khader, who regularly calls Australia these days, speaks about Rahul’s tough days after he had scored just 4 runs from two innings. “He saw all the criticism on Facebook and Twitter. But he told me that he was just going to ignore it and believed that he had the game to succeed. Even at the age-group level, his mental strength made him special,” Khader said.
Heart in mouth
The Indian dressing room backed him, including Virat Kohli. Rahul got his second chance as he was included in the playing XI for the Sydney Test. Khader explains the reason for his old friend’s shot selection at the MCG. “Rahul was not under pressure because it was his Test debut. He handles pressure well. He had walked in at No.6 (1st innings at Melbourne) and was anxious to score quickly. Virat Kohli was batting on 100-plus and Rahul thought it was best to attack the Australians,” he says.
All that seems like a thing of the past. On the day Rahul scored his first ton, Jayraj spoke with his ward. Like they have over the years — from the time a young Rahul appeared for an Under-13 district selection trial — the talk revolved around looking ahead. “I told him that the second innings is more important than the first. He is not someone who rests on his laurels.”
For Jayraj, watching Test cricket is getting difficult. “I screamed in agony when Rahul edged a pull off Shane Watson. I though he was going to be caught by Steve Smith,” he says. It’s similar at Rahul’s home. Dr KN Lokesh did catch his son’s Test century but his wife didn’t. “She can’t handle the tension of watching him play. So I watch the game and tell her how he has done. I could give her the best-possible news on Thursday, but we know there will be ups and downs. He has just stared.”