While Tarapore certainly was the coach for Rahul,
he was also getting inputs from others. At the
Brijesh Patel Cricket Academy he was exposed to the
experiences and observations of former cricketers
GR Vishwanath, Ashok Mankad, Roger Binny, Daljit
Singh and Patel himself.
Working hard to keep fit -
Rahul (left) with Indian
team physio John Gloster
Daljit and Binny were perhaps the first to drive
home the need for top cricketers to have a lot of
stamina and be physically fit. Till then, most
physical training involved a few laps around the
ground, a couple of sprints and a few loosening up
exercises. The Indian cricketers of the 1970s and
80s did not take physical conditioning seriously.
Some of the biggest names in Indian cricket scoffed
at the need for physical training and even
ridiculed it during that period. One said that he
got all his exercise while running between the
wickets while another went on record that all the
physical training he needed he got playing shuttle
badminton once a week!
Luckily for the aspiring cricketers from Karnataka,
Daljit and Binny, during the later stages of his
career, were exposed to developments elsewhere and
imbibed the need for rigorous physical training. An
entire generation of impressionable youngsters of
that period including Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh
Prasad, Anil Kumble and Rahul learnt their lessons
well and took physical training very seriously.
Thus with the physical training,
his in-born mental toughness shored up by the books
on mind games that he read and his supreme
commitment to practice, Rahul, as a cricketer
developed rapidly. The best part of his early
career was that he had an open mind about
everything. He was a keen listener who later
assessed the pros and cons and then went about
taking his own decisions. Rahul possesses these
traits even now. To this day he does not flinch
from approaching ex- cricketers and asking them
about their experiences, may be on a bouncy track,
or on conditions where the ball seams.
This constant desire to improve and excel has seen
him seek a batting tip or two from stalwarts Sunil
Gavaskar, GR Vishwanath and Ravi Shastri. ``At the
end of the day I think destiny lies in your own
hands. If somebody who has been through it can
provide in-sights into what you are walking into,
you can be that much better prepared,'' said Rahul.
When he learned that the bounce of the South
African pitches would be higher than in any he had
played till then, he decided to prepare for it. He
used the paved pavilion steps at KSCA Stadium as
the pitch and got a few of his Karnataka team mates
to wet a tennis ball and throw it at a short of
length from 10 to 12 yards. He sometimes used a bat
to defend and on other occasions discarded the bat
and just concentrated on swaying out of harm's way.
In the nets he made some of the fast bowlers bowl
at him from 18 to 20 yards.
Of course a lot had been said and written about how
Sachin Tendulkar prepared for Shane Warne in 1998
by scuffing the pitch in the nets and getting local
leg spinners to bowl in the rough. Very few,
though, know that Rahul had prepared just as
diligently to take on the South African pacemen,
Allan Donald, Brian McMillian, Shaun Pollock, Fanie
de Villiers and Lance Klusner in their backyard
during the 1997 series. The 148 - his first Test
century - and 81 he scored in the two innings at
the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg is proof that
all the hard work paid off. In fact Rahul had such
a splendid series that he was often seen as the
side's number one batsman, ahead of Tendulkar and
Rahul's batting, though, was diametrically opposite
to Tendulkar's. The latter sought to stamp his
authority by dominating the bowling. Rahul took a
different route. His aim was to frustrate the
bowler by wearing him down. In this, his monumental
patience and belief in his ability to stonewall
helped. He presented a dead bat at most times and
then every now and then came up with a stroke of
exquisite timing to annoy the bowler.
The pull, hook and cut which he grew up with on the
matting wickets of Bangalore always stood him in
good stead, particularly as he was not a compulsive
hooker. He would sway out of the way often and then
suddenly come up with a rasping shot to peg back
``We used to call him the `Rock of Gibraltar' even
at that young age,'' said coach PS Vishwanath. ``Keki
and I knew that as long as he was at the crease he
would keep one end going. To this day that is the
way he plays the game. Others like Tendulkar,
Laxman and Ganguly get the confidence to play an
attacking game when he is holding the other end
PS Vishwanath stated that he and Keki advised Rahul
to give up wicket-keeping and concentrate only on
batting. ``It is too strenuous - keeping the whole
day and then going out to bat at number three. Even
now I hold that he must give up keeping.
Wicket-keeping for a short while in One-Dayers is
one thing. But if he keeps in games of longer
duration his batting will suffer.''
Rahul took Tarapore's advice seriously. Of course
not being the number one wicket-keeper for college,
club or state juniors also helped him arrive
quicker at the decision. The point, though, is that
Tarapore had a great influence on Rahul. This
continued till Tarapore passed away a couple of
Rahul never forgot what Tarapore did for him in the
early stages of his career. He made it a point to
meet him before embarking on any tour, series or
major match and also met him on his return each
time. Tarapore, who used to go from ground to
ground to watch Rahul play, now took to following
his career through live telecasts. If he thought
Rahul was doing something differently or some error
had crept into his basics he would note it down and
alert Rahul about it.
Of course in the later stages the talk might not
always have been of cricket, but the bonding
between the two was excellent. When Tarapore fell
sick and ultimately became bedridden, Rahul
organised a benefit match for him.
In subsequent years the advent of the e-Cricket Pro
tool, the software the Indian team uses, helped
Rahul analyse his game and that of his opponents.
He took to the gizmo enthusiastically and this
further fortified the already impenetrable wall.
For Rahul his career has been one long learning
phase. At no time has he believed he is the master
of the game. Yes, he has had that quiet confidence
about him. But it is a confidence that comes
cloaked with humility and a desire for perfection.
In this he shows the same hunger to learn and
imbibe that he did 17 years ago. It is this trait
that has helped him become one of the finest
batsmen in the world.