“After running on concrete and treadmill for months, when you step onto the ground you feel like you’re walking on a cloud,” the India top order batsman told TOI in an exclusive chat. “It’s difficult to explain the feeling. I was half in tears, half smiling. In fact, I just couldn’t stop smiling. Just to be able to get out and run on the ground felt so good.”
Sportsmen across the globe have been driven indoors by the pandemic, but Rahul says it taught him to be grateful – for life and his career.
The 28-year-old is now preparing to skipper Kings XI Punjab in the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League in the UAE next month. To say he is excited about his maiden IPL captaincy role would be an understatement. He is also looking forward to working with former India skipper Anil Kumble, who heads cricket operations for the Punjab-based franchise.
The heavily-tattooed Karnataka batsman, outlining the lessons learnt during the lockdown, said, “It taught me to be grateful for a lot of things in life like just being healthy and having food on the table. During the period I also learnt to be a lot more patient. I’m grateful that I got to spend quality time with my family, which I haven’t been able to do since my junior cricket days. It gave me an opportunity to reach out to and help less fortunate people. Also, I learnt to cook.”
It wasn’t all hunky-dory though and there were anxiety and frustration, especially with fitness resources being limited.
“Not having that chance to go to the gym or practice was frustrating,” he said. “But we adapted well. We managed to put together gyms at home. Some of us started cycling, running in the car parks of apartments. We didn’t have a choice. There were days when I was annoyed and frustrated, but I kept telling myself there were a lot of others having it much harder and tougher in life.”
Tougher still was quelling anxiety. “I was scared,” he admitted. “I kept wondering if my skills would remain the same when I returned to the sport. I had nightmares. A couple of times I woke up in the middle of the night because I dreamt I had forgotten how to pick the line and length. It scared the hell out of me. To be honest, when I went back to play the first session, it was horrible because I was rusty.”
KUMBLE’S VALUABLE GUIDANCE
Rahul, who joined Kings XI Punjab in 2018, pointed out that Anil Kumble’s experience would help him fit into the role of a leader. “I’m lucky because we share a great understanding. We go a long way and he’s seen me from my younger days. I’ve always looked up to Anil bhai. He has led the country, has a wealth of experience and has played this format as well. His knowledge of the game will be of great help in my first year as captain. His guidance and experience will be valuable. It will help me make good decisions in the middle,” pointed out Rahul.
THE UAE SOJOURN
Rahul is aware of the challenges he will face as a leader. “As a leader, you will have to be mindful of the fact that a lot of players will be rusty. We will all be nervous because we are restarting the game with a major tournament without much action in recent times. So, it’s important for a leader to make the players feel comfortable and let them know that it’s okay to feel like that initially. That said, it will be a good learning experience for each one of us because we have a great set of coaches and support staff,” he said.
Much like the rest of the players, Rahul too is unsure about how the UAE experience will pan out. “I haven’t really thought about it. I’m still looking forward to going there and finishing the six-day quarantine and getting back to training and preparing with the boys. All I know is that the weather’s going to be hot. So, we have to be in good shape to withstand that. Most likely it’s going to be slow and turning wickets. We have a good set of spinners in our line-up and our batsmen are well equipped. That gives me a lot of confidence going into the tournament,” signed off Rahul.