Ravichandran Ashwin’s exit from Kings XI Punjab has opened a new window of opportunity for K. L. Rahul, who has been named captain of the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise. The India international is looking forward to the challenge as his team gears up for the 2020 edition in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Rahul talks to Sportstar about the season ahead and how he’s looking forward to working with new head coach Anil Kumble.
It has been a long break for all of you. How does it feel to return to cricket after six months?
I’m absolutely ecstatic and we are very, very happy that we have this opportunity to start playing cricket once again. The past few months have been difficult, not just for us, but for everyone around the world. Just to get that opportunity to be out and do what we love makes us very happy. We are all excited. We have had a few days of practice and all of us are enjoying it and are looking forward to the tournament.
Personally, how did you spend your time during the lockdown?
It was a new challenge. Also, the other factor was that we were getting a lot of time at home, which we generally don’t. So, we could spend a lot of time with family and the body needed that rest because we were playing for a long time.
I still trained at home. You can never really completely switch off from the game; you are always thinking about the game or watching it on television. You try to stay connected to cricket, so I used to watch a lot of old videos of myself and old games that were on television. Also, I did whatever I could to physically keep myself fit. It was a good time for the players to stay fitter and get stronger. We don’t get breaks like these too often, so we had that in mind that once things get back to normal, we will get busy again and may not have a lot of time to train or for recovery. So, I tried to do all of those things and hopefully it will all come together.
Coming into a high-profile tournament like the IPL, how challenging will it be for the players to get back their old rhythm?
It will definitely be very challenging. Every other season when we play the IPL, the players come with a lot of cricket behind them. The Indian cricketers too come after a first-class season, so everybody stays in good touch. They feel good and they know where they stand. This time, the challenge is obviously different because we all have been indoors for a very long time.
As captain, what will be your initial target to ensure that the team starts on a positive note?
I don’t think anybody is short on motivation. They are very keen and excited for the start of the IPL. We are happy that everybody is here and is part of the team after a long wait. Cricketers are all used to playing back-to-back tournaments and playing the game throughout the year. So, they are very, very motivated.
I think for the captain and the coaching group, it is very important right now that we hold the players back a little bit because everybody is eager to do a lot of things. We have to make sure that our bodies are used to the load and we pick up the intensity slowly and peak at the right time. I am lucky that we have such a good support team with Anil Kumble and all the others.
They make sure that everybody is looked after well and everyone is physically and mentally ready before the first game starts. My job is to see that the boys are preparing well and have their roles clear in the head. Everyone wants to go out there and compete hard; results, I am sure, will take care of themselves.
You had a session in Bengaluru recently. How much did it help in team-building?
It was good that few of us had a session in Bengaluru before coming to Dubai. It really helped. It’s very normal for every player to be a bit rusty in terms of their skills. I had kept in touch with most of the boys, and their trainers and physios had done a great job (during the lockdown), making sure that they were physically fit and ready. But in terms of skills and outdoor training, not many players had the opportunity, so it was nice that a few of us could get the opportunity to train outside and hit a few balls. It was about feeling normal in the middle and was fun.
In the auction in December last year, players were chosen keeping in mind that the matches will be played in India. But now that the tournament will be held in the UAE, how much of a challenge will it be to get the combination right?
If you look at all the eight teams and look at their team lists, you will see that every team is very well balanced in whatever conditions we may have to face. Yes, a lot of teams had picked a lot of players in terms of their home conditions. But again, it’s IPL and the skill (level) here is very, very high.
Everybody will be ready to perform, overcoming the challenges thrown at us. They are all excited, and as we get closer to the tournament, we will have a look at the wicket, conditions and then get a feel of how things will be. Based on that, we will decide on the combination and field the best possible XI. Nobody can get it right all the time, but we will try to get it as right as possible.
This is a new year for Kings XI Punjab with you at the helm. How do you see the new challenge?
It’s a new opportunity and a huge responsibility to captain and lead a side, so that’s what I’m looking forward to. Yeah, it’s been a few months since the coaches and I sat down and brainstormed a lot of things and did (research) of certain players and we could manage to get them in the auction. So, I’m really happy with the guys and how the team is looking. I’m looking forward to the captaincy and the leadership role. Let’s just see how it goes. I don’t really have a lot of expectations. There are no bars or anything that I’m setting; I just want to see what I can do to help the team stay in a good positive frame of mind and enjoy their cricket.
Rahul with Chris Gayle (right). “There are a lot of experienced players in our team and superstars of the game — we have (Glenn) Maxwell and Chris Gayle and Sheldon (Cottrell) — and all these guys come in with a lot of experience,” says the KIngs XI captain. – The Hindu Photo Library
You said that keeping cool and calm holds the key. But this is also a season where you have an entire new line of support staff, with Anil Kumble as the head coach. Is there any particular thing that you will try to get in the beginning of the season so that you guys get off to a good start?
Yeah, it’s a big tournament and it’s important that you get off to a good start.
I’ve been part of different teams that have been part of the IPL for the last four-five years, so we know how to stay together as a team and enjoy each other’s company. That’s what I’d be trying to achieve with my leadership and make sure everybody enjoys themselves in the middle and outside of the field as well. (We have the) advantages of having experienced coaches and our head coach being Anil bhai, who has been around and has lots and lots of experience, so the youngsters and the guys in the team can benefit from him and he can guide us all in the right direction and he is somebody who we look up to for direction and support. I know that he will be there and they are solid guys who will back the team completely.
This time you have picked some of the brightest young talents during the auction. Being the senior-most member of the team, what would your advice to them be?
My advice to any youngsters playing in any of the teams is to go out there and enjoy themselves. If they make mistakes, they make mistakes; you really want the youngsters to learn on their own as much as they can.
Nowadays all these youngsters come in with lot of experience, they have the exposure to the camera and playing cricket in front of big crowds. So, anybody who would come in would obviously be a little nervous, but it’s not that they have never played a game of cricket with such high intensity and such high pressure.
They all come with a bit of experience, and the players we picked up are very, very exciting, and, like I said, the guys that we picked were exactly the guys we wanted to get. And this year we had the luxury to buy whoever we wanted because we went into this auction with the biggest purse possible — biggest purse among all the other teams — so we got exactly who we wanted. The youngsters bring in a lot of flair, excitement, and I am really looking forward to giving them an opportunity and the freedom to go out there and enjoy themselves. They (get to) learn as much as they can in these two months, and (we can) help them in whatever little way we can.
Rahul with new head coach Anil Kumble. – Twitter / Kings XI Punjab
There are also some of the biggest names in international cricket in your ranks…
There are a lot of experienced players in our team and superstars of the game — we have (Glenn) Maxwell and Chris Gayle and Sheldon (Cottrell) — and all these guys come in with a lot of experience. So, for all these youngsters, it will be a great opportunity to spend time with them. That’s what I enjoyed the most as a youngster playing the IPL. I got to learn so much from the stars of the game by interacting with them. Spending time with them helped me a lot and that’s what I will encourage these young guys to do.
Last year you played the role of wicketkeeper-batsman. This time what’s the plan? Are there any particular areas that you are working on as far as batting is concerned?
Like my captaincy, it’s the same with my batting. I don’t really go into the game with any expectations or any goals. I go out there and assess the situation and see what best I can do to take my team across the line. And it’s the same with my batting… That’s what I have done in the IPL for the last couple of seasons.
It’s not going to be any different this year, and when I am batting, I am going to try and see what best I can do to take my team to the winning position. As a player, I have never really planned for a tournament or a competition, and working as a captain may be different – I will get to know during the season.
I think it’s important to keep things simple and be present in the moment and try to make the best decision possible for the team. It’s gonna be exciting and I’m really looking forward to it.
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