A young man with a
dream....Rahul moves towards
his maiden Test hundred against
South Africa at Johannesburg,
he played just that one series against New Zealand
as an Under-19 cricketer. "These days, youngsters
have so many opportunities at the Under-15 and
Under-19 level. There's the Asia Cup, World Cup and
also reciprocal tours. We had nothing of this sort.
The only international Under-19 cricket I played
was when I was virtually a few months short of my
19th birthday,'' he said.
That India Under-19 team had a number of promising
youngsters. Tamil Nadu's S Sharath, for one, scored
tons of runs in all levels of the game, yet was
never given a chance to represent India at the
highest level. He simply could not get past his own
state selectors. Then there was Tanveer Jabbar,
another fine player; Akash Malhotra, Amit Pathak,
Gautam Vadera, Abhijit Kale, Gautam Dutta, Suresh
Kumar, et al. Yet from that India Under-19 squad
only Rahul went on to play Test cricket.
"I think if there had been more Under-19 tours a
few from that crop would have played Tests,''
offered Rahul. "Many of them were good but lacked
opportunities to further develop their skills.''
Rahul's stint with India A was just as satisfying
for him. He played a lot more cricket at this
level, with the toughest one being against England
A in India. England had a very good mix of players
who had already made it to the international level
and some extremely promising ones. All had played
first class cricket and were therefore quite
seasoned compared to the India A players.
Leading the pack of experienced players was Mark
Ramprakash, skipper Allan Wells and Ian Salibury.
They also had a number of fine players in Michael
Vaughan, Nick Knight, Damien Cork and Richard Stemp.
Besides, Min Patel who was to grow close to Rahul
when the latter spent a season with Kent, was also
a member of the team.
The Indian side had some excellent youngsters in
Rahul, Saurav Ganguly, Vikram Rathore, Vijay Yadav,
Rajesh Chauhan, Sairaj Bahutule, Paras Mhambrey,
Abey Kuruvilla and Amol Majumdar. The captain was
former Test batsman Praveen Amre.
It was a good series between a strong side and a
talented, but young team. England, riding on the
strength of their batting, won the `Tests' 3-0 and
the one-dayers 2-1. Rahul himself had a good
series, notching up four half-centuries. He made a
47 in one innings and on another occasion, at the
Eden Garden, he was batting on 25 when his partner
Saurav Ganguly ran him out.
Rahul had played the ball to deep mid-on and came
down the track for what would have been a simple
single. But Ganguly, even as the ball went past
him, turned his back on Rahul. Both were in the
same crease and with Ganguly refusing to budge
Rahul tried to unsuccessfully scamper back to the
striker's end. It was only one more of the run outs
Just before this series, Rahul had gone with the
India A team to Dhaka for the Saarc cricket
tournament. The Indian team got the better of all
the other Saarc cricket-playing nations, Pakistan,
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It was a particularly low
scoring tournament on pitches that decidedly
favoured bowlers. The highest total before the
final was Bangladesh's 172 in their one-run win
over India. Pakistan, for instance, was shot out
for 120 in 47 overs by India. In another match,
India defended a low total of 182 against a Sri
Lankan batting line-up that had Marvan Attapattu,
Hathurasinghe, Samarasekara, Russel Arnold, Indika
de Saram and Upal Chandana and won by 44 runs!
The Indian team had Rathore, J Arun Kumar, Amre,
Ganguly, Atul Bedade in the top order. But it was
Rahul's batsmanship with scores of 44, 16, 33 and
37 that clinched the issue for India. On pitches
that the others in the side struggled, Rahul put
his head down and grafted for these small but
crucial scores to pilot India to a triumph.
His performance in that low-scoring series proved
that he was the man of the hour when it came to
batting in crunch situations. And so it has been
right through his career.
At that time, the national selectors took note of
Rahul's performance in the two India A tournaments,
in Dhaka and at home against England A. The
following year, even as Rahul failed to make the
Indian World Cup team, the selectors chose him for
the India A's challenge in the Interface Cup in
Once again Rahul underscored his potential with
some sparkling batting and cool temperament. His
unbeaten 69 which helped India squeeze out a
thrilling penultimate ball win over Pakistan was
the high point of the series. Rahul with scores of
40, 69 n.o, 63 and 45 n.o. bagged the man of the
series award. India beat traditional rivals
Pakistan by seven wickets in the final to make it
doubly sweet for Rahul.
Things, thus, were falling in place for Rahul. He
had made tons of runs at the Ranji Trophy and
Duleep Trophy levels, was seen as a success at the
India A level and had even smashed an unbeaten 145
for Board President's XI against the visiting New
Zealand team. It just required the selectors to see
that this 22 year-old was indeed the batsman they
were looking for to shore up the national Test