The monsoons may still not have said goodbye, but the rain gods decided to give us a break this particular day. Our November coverstar entered the room right on time with an extremely friendly vibe as he individually acknowledged the entire team. It’s the little things that tell you more about a person than any 20 minute chat can, and in that moment I saw a humble and genuine man behind the facade of a celebrity sportsman. The edgy shoot embodied the play of lights that in contrast brought out the tranquility in the aura that KL Rahul walks around with. He sat down to have a fun and candid conversation with Smriti Raizada under the neon lights, with a smile on his face that gave away the subtlety that is his essence of being.
Ex: Hi Rahul! It’s been quite a ride since your debut in 2014. Who was the one person – friend or family – that really pushed you to become the cricketer you are today?
It’s always been my father. The family support I’ve had has always been a huge part of my success. There’s a sense of normality at home, you know? My parents and my family always saw me as a normal boy. It didn’t matter to them whether I played for India or state cricket, if I did well or I didn’t do well; they always made me feel normal which was great and exactly what I needed. So, I learned to handle success and failure equally, respect both of them, always look forward to getting better as a person and just being grateful for the opportunities I’ve gotten in life. Through it all, my family support has been the biggest.
Ex: First centuries are always special and you scored yours very early in your career. What was going on in your head before and after you scored your first 100?
For a player, a lot goes on his head before scoring the first run but when you’ve reached a score of 95-96, you’re already, you know, in that zone. I’m not saying it’s any easier – the pressure of getting to a hundred but personally I always try not to look at the scoreboard because the numbers tend to put pressure and it does affect you in some way. I don’t think there was a lot going on in my head in that exact minute.
My first hundred, I remember, there was one over left before the tea break in which I played a few balls and missed them. That’s when my partner came to me and said that it’s okay and I could always get those four runs after the break. That was the moment I realized that I needed only so many runs for my first century. And then the next ball? I just went for it. The feeling after that honestly was really numb. I can’t describe it; it was a rollercoaster of emotions – there was happiness, there was relief. In a second, you get a flashback of all the days you’ve worked hard and dreamt of to be here in this moment. It didn’t really sink in quickly and only after two or three hours I realised that, “Oh hell, I’ve done it.” The feeling after it sinks in is real. After that, it becomes like ecstasy – the feeling of wanting that joy, the happiness of getting to a milestone. It’s something you want to do again and again.
Ex: We are 5 brilliant years into your career. How was it to share the locker room with players you’ve seen play and admired from a young age?
For the first few days, it’s uncomfortable but in a happy way. You see all your heroes, all the legends, the people you’ve looked up to right there talking to you at a very human level. It takes a few days to get over that feeling and look at them as a friend, a teammate or as a brother. Personally, I’ve always tried to look at somebody as a human being first and not as a star. I’ve always loved to know people’s journeys, their stories and their struggles. For me, it was amazing, at that very young age, to be a part of the dressing room and to learn from these players, pick their minds about what I need to do to get better and understand what they did to take their game to the next level. For any youngster, it’s a dream come true.
Ex: You’ve been an absolute star when it comes to IPL and played for some of the best teams. What was the toughest challenge you faced through that journey?
To be honest, I’ve always enjoyed the pressure. That’s what I’ve always wanted and longed for. So, something like an IPL or any game actually, that you play for your country where people are watching you and there are lots and lots of people in the stadium, the pressure automatically increases. The adrenaline is sky-rocketing and that’s a feeling that I want everyday of my life. After that, it’s hard to go back and play when there’s nobody watching you [smiles]. I’ve always enjoyed it; so for me, more pressure, more people viewing, more noise – all of it just brings out the best in me.
Ex: Do you think the technological aspect changes how people are viewing cricket now in comparison to when you were a viewer yourself?
Social media has definitely been a game changer. When I started, it wasn’t that big, harsh or critical. Technology will always keep surprising you and newer things will keep coming. You need to understand it, accept it and take what’s good.
Ex: Imagine this – you’re the captain of the Indian Cricket team that has reached the finals of the World cup. What would you say to your team just before entering the field?
I’d play Shah Rukh Khan’s Chak De! India speech [laughs]. See, I haven’t played a world cup final yet but we were a part of the semi final and it’s heartbreaking to lose. But that also made me realize the truckload of emotions you go through. So as a leader, it’ll be important for me to make my team stay in a comfortable-happy zone and just enjoy it. If we’ve reached the finals, that means we’ve played well so far and nobody is going to take that away from us, irrespective of how the finals go. It’s important to put your teammates in a zone where they want to go out there and enjoy themselves because a world cup final is not going to come every second day. So I’d make sure we enjoy every moment and have fun while we’re at it!
Ex: Being a millennial youth icon yourself with millions of followers, what’s the best and the worst thing about social media that people should take note of?
Look, the best thing is that you know what is happening around the world in terms of whatever your interests are – be it sports, be it fashion, be it cars or be it watches. All of it just one touch away. Earlier people had to travel all over the world and see it with their own eyes to understand different cultures or happenings around the globe. Now, with a touch of your finger you can know what’s going on in a different part of the world which is great and it opens up your mind to so much more.
There’s always a flip side to the coin; a negative to it which is very scary to me is how youngsters feel that social media is a big part of their lives. For them, real life isn’t real anymore and the world they see on their phones has turned into something more substantial. If you don’t know where the boundaries are, it’s a bit scary because there is so much more to do and learn from talking to people, going out, being away from your phone and giving your mind the opportunity to see and learn and understand things at a deeper level. To a certain extent, even I’m like that, a lot of people are like that; worried about how many people are commenting, what they’re commenting, how many likes they’ve got. But I try to not worry about it, I don’t try too hard to be accepted or be in the game in terms of social media.
Put what you want to put and don’t worry about validation or about what people want to see. Do what you want to do, if people accept it, they accept it, if they don’t be ready for criticism. That is what life is – you will learn, you will grow and you will get better. On our social media, I know this for a fact, there’s a lot of anger and I just don’t know where all this anger comes from, in the younger generation. They’re constantly criticising or abusing you on your performance. It’s hard to understand why and that’s scary to me.
Ex: What would your advice be to everyone playing in the Ranji Trophy and the U-19 with the dream of playing for Indian National Cricket team?
I know as a youngster, you want to work hard and do more to make that climb but I’ve realized that you need to be a lot more patient and disciplined to succeed. People nowadays feel like they need to do something different to be successful but I’ve come to a realization that you need to keep doing the same thing again and again and just keep at it. The person who is more disciplined and more devotedly doing the same thing every day is the one who will be more widely recognized. The youngsters need to practice a little bit more patience and discipline.
Ex: You’ve quite often been the talk of the town. How do you deal with constant rumours and the paparazzi?
I try to ignore it as much as I can. I don’t really try to look too much into it. Even with that, sometimes you can’t help but come across people’s comments or what people are saying about you. I’ll go back to what I said, my family and the way I’ve been brought up is why I know when to switch off, when to draw a line and not worry about other people’s opinions about me. I know what I am, I know where I come from, I know how hard I’ve had to work, I didn’t get anything easy and I’ve seen both good and bad days. I believe I’m balanced in that way. I won’t say that I’m a saint and it doesn’t affect me at all [laughs] but it takes me just 10-15 minutes to snap out of it. Sometimes I use that anger into training harder and try to always come out on top.
Ex: What would be KL Rahul’s calling in a parallel universe?
I don’t know, I hope this parallel universe has some sport. I’d want to be a sportsman for sure – in any universe, in any given life.
- What’s the one thing you want to accomplish before 2019 ends – Just to stay focused on my game and do consistently well.
- Something quirky about you that people don’t know about you – Let that stay quirky and quiet [laughs]
- Your go-to fitness app(s) – A nutrition app, only if need be!
- What are your 3 travel tech essentials – My phones, my iPad and my headphones
- What’s been your most expensive tech buy – I spend a lot on watches!
- Your nickname in the dressing room – KL
- If you could star in a movie, which one would it be – I’ve been a huge Batman fan all my life. But I wouldn’t want to be Batman, I’d like to play Bane – Tom Hardy’s character.
- Apart from your profession, what gets your heart racing – It’s weird but only yummy food gets my heart racing apart from my profession.
- How would you describe yourself in a hashtag – #CuteButPsycho