Team India is all set to kickstart its international assignment with the three-match One Day International series against Australia, beginning Friday. The team will miss the services of Rohit Sharma and is also ready to move on to a new chapter post Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s retirement. K.L. Rahul’s appointment as Virat Kohli’s deputy and his new role as a middle-order batsman is one way the Indian team management is looking to plug the holes in the batting and wicket-keeping department. The Karnataka player spoke via a web interaction about the challenges the series posed and how he has adjusted to his new responsibilities. Excerpts:
Is this the best you have felt about your white ball form?
I haven’t played a lot of 50-over cricket for a continued period of time. Yeah, it feels good contributing to team and playing my role pretty well. [I’m] Happy to put up consistent performances for team.
Will your batting order be dependent on your role as wicket-keeper; you have done well as number 5 earlier.
Yes, I think it will depend on the format I am playing, what the team wants of me and what combination it feels is better. In the last ODI series, I batted at 5 and kept wickets. It’s a role I’ve enjoyed and I am quite happy to do whatever the team gives me.
Has the team management told you while giving you these responsibilities that these include three ICC tournaments to be played in the coming season?
Nothing has been told to me, I don’t think the team is thinking that far. Obviously, World Cups are very important, and they are in the long vision for all teams. For me, we are still taking one game at a time. If I keep giving consistent performances with bat and glove, then it gives us the option of playing an extra bowler or batter, it helps the team combination a little more. If the opportunity presents itself, I can keep in all three World Cups. I would love to do it.
Team India has had a few practice sessions in Australia. What are the challenges you would be dealing with?
The biggest challenge for me has been to be in my room. The time to go outside for practice, see my teammates is best part of the day. Challenge is mostly when you are back in the room and all alone.
How do you plan to keep to spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav?
Nobody can fill the place of M.S. Dhoni. He has shown the wicket-keeper batsman’s role and how it should be done. We have a decent understanding—me and the spinners in the team—Chalal, Kuldeep and (Ravindra) Jadeja. I will go and give feedback on better length or pace or change the field set—anybody doing wicket-keeping will have the responsibility.
You had a good IPL with the bat. Is that a confidence booster going into the series against Australia?
Yes, it does give confidence. Just considering how the last 6-7 months went with no cricket, it was important—all players came into the IPL with self-doubts—had we prepared well? It went well, yes. I could get runs in middle, and hopefully, I can use that confidence and momentum in this series as well. It’s different playing Australia, a very competitive team. It’s a fresh tournament, a fresh start, different format—it is important we start fresh, stay positive.
You have different roles to play—as wicket-keeper, batsman and vice-captain—what will be the challenges while fulfilling these responsibilities?
I did get a little bit of a feeler with IPL—I was in similar roles there as well. It was challenging and new, but I got used to that role and started enjoying it. Hopefully, I can continue the same here. With a passionate leader like Virat (Kohli) it makes your job easier.
Can you share the mindset needed to maintain balance between different roles while discharging different duties? And how important will a good show with the white ball set the tone for the Test series?
Something I learnt from the IPL is to stay in the moment. When I am batting, to think as a batter, assess conditions and win game for the team as batter. When I am keeping, the last 3-4 seconds when the bowler is running in, think as wicket-keeper which is key and very important for me going ahead personally. It is important to start well in the white ball series. We are playing after a while, all are eager to play some hard, aggressive cricket. Take it one game at time.
Last time you played for India (in January), you scored a century in New Zealand—does it feel like ages ago?
Yes, definitely does. I had actually forgotten that the last innings I played I scored a 100 in New Zealand. It’s a fresh start for everybody, important as a team to start well, enjoy being in middle; this is something we missed—wearing the blue jersey.
Which Aussie bowler poses the biggest threat during upcoming T20 and ODI series?
Australia is a really competitive team. Their threat is when they bowl together as a unit. I have realised they play well together as a pack and bowling unit. [I’m] Looking forward to the challenge.
India has seen little of Marnus Labuschagne. How do you prepare for a player unknown to your side?
Marnus is someone I enjoyed watching on TV against England in the Ashes. But I don’t think he is unknown anymore; he’s in the top five Test rankings, getting a lot of runs, is consistent. We have watched how he plays. Fingers crossed, hopefully, he won’t score that many against us. We have our plans set. We have a top quality bowling attack. It’s a challenge for our bowlers and for him.
As your teammate in KXIP what do you make of Glenn Maxwell’s form?
Yes, of course, he will be dangerous. That’s one of the reasons we picked him in the IPL franchise. On his day, he can win a game single-handedly and is a great team man. A gun fielder, always there to support teammates. He will be eager to get out and try and perform for Australia as well.