Ramesh Rao still remembers days at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore where young Lokesh Rahul had to follow tough routines during sessions. Post the Under-19 World Cup, things weren’t going Rahul’s way. Rao, who was a coach at the NCA, once even asked the Karnataka opener to take a few days off but youngster disagreed.
“Have you seen Rahul bhai? Despite playing for India, he still practices so hard. I want to be like him and he always says there is no substitute for hard work. Entertainment can happen after playing for India, so let me continue,” Rahul replied.
Rahul’s approach is well known in Bangalore and those who have seen him, don’t hesitate to say how Rahul tries to mimic former India captain Rahul Dravid. His walk from the pavilion to the crease is a copy of Dravid and the 21-year-old openly idolises Rahul like no one else.
“He is my idol, mentor, everything. Since the time I started to play cricket, I have tried to copy him. Be it his walk, batting stances, strokes’ I always want to get that same touch,” Rahul told The Indian Express from Singapore where his unbeaten 93 enabled India U-23 to clinch the ACC Emerging Team Cup final against Pakistan U-23.
Cricket’s most famous rivalries was reduced to a one-sided contest as the Indians chased down the 160-run target in just 33.4 overs at the Kallang. Baba Aparajith shone with a three-wicket burst, while pacers Sandeep Warrier and Sandeep Sharma grabbed two wickets each.
Electing to bat first, Pakistan got off to a pedestrian start. A clump of wickets followed when their third wicket fell on 88 and soon, they found themselves at 107 for 9. They lost seven wickets for 19 runs as the match slipped away.
In the Indian chase, Rahul missed out on what would have been a well-deserved century by just seven runs but stitched an unbroken 132-run stand for the second wicket with Manprit Juneja (51 not out) as India rounded off their impressive unbeaten run in the tournament.
Rahul was the mainstay of India’s batting in Singapore and did well in tough conditions where pitches were slow and challenged the batsmen. He explains he would have been more satisfied if he made bigger scores. Even in the domestic season and the IPL, he showed an ability of playing in the shorter formats too.
“The happiest thing was to be part of the IPL. It cleared doubts that I could be part of the shortest format. I learned lot from Virat (Kohli) and AB (de Villiers). They told me that was important to enjoy the game. Earlier, I used to think a lot about my batting, but now it has changed,” Rahul says.
As the tournament ended, Rahul’s scores of 93 not-out, 43, 51, 88 and 46 showcased his form. He was most relieved about beating Pakistan in the final as he still remembers the time the India Under-19 World Cup team he was part of had lost to their arch-rivals in New Zealand.
“That memory is still fresh. I had told myself that if any opportunity arose against Pakistan, I would take it. Thankfully, things worked out for me,” he said.
Before leaving for Singapore, Rahul had spoken to Dravid who had told him to go with an open mind and play as per his instinct. Like Dravid, Rahul too works hard and has the stamp of a player meant for the longer format. He is aware the fact that the only way to establish himself back home is thorugh the grind of domestic cricket. He is ready to face challenges thrown at him and like Dravid, take the long route for success.
BRIEF SCORES: PAK U-23 159 all out in 47 overs (U Waheed 41; B Aparijith 3/28, S Yadav 2/20) lost to IND U-23 160/1 in 33.4 overs (K Rahul 93, M Juneja 51; R Hasan 1/41)