The best part of the whole exercise was that the
young boys got to play every day of the summer camp
at the hallowed KSCA Stadium. Of course the initial
nets itself was at the KSCA matting facility which
fell outside the main arena. But the jogging,
stretching and fielding practice were sometimes in
the main arena. And just this stepping on to the
hallowed turf on which Test matches and One Day
Internationals were staged was in itself a big
thrill for the young trainees.
Rahul who had had his first taste of formal
coaching at the previous summer camp when he joined
towards the fag end of the programme, was not
particular about what he wanted to do.
"I looked around. When Keki asked `how many
wicket-keepers in this group", not a single hand
went up. I was just 13 years of age then. I said to
myself, `what the heck, let me give it a shot.' So
I put up my hand. I had never kept till then. But I
was willing to try anything at that stage.
"So I kept. And I actually enjoyed it. It kept me
involved in the nets. And because there were no
other wicket-keepers in that net, I got a lot of
This proved to be a lucky break for Rahul. He was
quickly identified as a wicket-keeper cum batsman.
However in his school junior team, he was not the
"We already had a wicket-keeper. It was only in my
second year in juniors cricket that I kept wickets
for the school. And even this because I was
"In fact I asked the boys if anybody wanted to
keep. But nobody seemed prepared. So I donned the
The following year, when the St Joseph's Boys High
School seniors team played in the Cottonian Shield,
Rahul again did not keep wickets.
I was not particular about wicket-keeping. There
was already a senior boy keeping wickets. I was
scoring a lot of runs and was happy letting
somebody else do the job. But when I became the
captain of the seniors team the next year, we once
again did not have a wicket-keeper. So what do you
do as captain?
I grabbed the gloves and stood.
"The important thing though was that as a
wicket-keeper, I had plenty to do in the nets.
Otherwise just batting and hanging around would
have been a big bore."
This extensive stint behind the stumps stood Rahul
in good stead, for when the state under-15
selection took place, he got into the Karnataka
team as a wicket-keeper cum batsman. During Rahul's
first year in the State Under-15 team, Sujith
Somasundar (who later went on to open the batting
for India in one-day internationals) was the
captain. Karnataka played their opening match in
Bangalore, against Andhra - and lost.
Rahul flopped with the bat, but impressed with his
wicket-keeping. This helped him get into the South
Zone Under-15 team as the second wicket-keeper. He
went on be a part of the South Zone camp as
The following year Rahul scored a lot of runs in
Under-15 cricket and also kept wickets pretty well.
This got him into the South Zone side and
ultimately won him a berth in the national camp in
Calcutta. His batting was falling into place and he
was constantly among the top run-getters.
Wicket-keeping was a value addition but was getting
him plenty of recognition. However, once again
things were about to change for Rahul.
"It was my entry into college that shook me out of
my comfort zone. In school I was top dog. I was
wicket-keeping, I was batting, and I was whacking
the ball all over the place, getting lots of runs
and dominating the show. Suddenly, four months
later, I was in a different league."
In school Rahul had things going his way. He was
the captain, scored tons of runs and generally did
what he wanted. But all this changed when he joined
St Joseph's College of Commerce. He was thrown into
an ocean, or so it seemed.
"Here, I was, 15 years of age, competing not with
boys my own age, but men, five to six years older.
In the first year of college cricket I was dropped
from the team. Of course I played for the PUC
(pre-university college) team. But I was kept out
of the main team. The captain, Satish Vishwanath
(who had earlier played for State Juniors), who was
in the final year, was also a wicket-keeper. He
would not play me in the team. A lot of the guys in
the team had played State juniors and Under-19. I
couldn't get a look-in. Besides there was a guy
called Sanchit Menezes who had played with me in
school. He was my senior and he too was a decent
wicket-keeper. So I stopped keeping for college."
This apart, Rahul was no longer enjoying
wicket-keeping. He broke a finger while keeping and
this took the fun out of the job. It also laid him
off the game for a few weeks. Besides, he had grown
taller and all the squatting and getting up as a
wicket-keeper was not helping him any. However, as
a batsman Rahul was in the thick of action. He was
scoring plenty of runs and seemed to be enjoying
the role as pure batsman.
"Even in inter-club cricket I could not keep for my
club BUCC. The club already had Syed Kirmani and
Sadanand Vishwanath competing for the
wicket-keeper's spot. And if they were not around,
NR Maaney, who was a decent former state juniors
wicket-keeper, was the third choice wicket-keeper,"
Of course there were few to challenge him when it
came to batsmanship. Irrespective of whether he
played for school, college or club he would come in
at number four and would score a lot of runs in
The added advantage for his teams to have Rahul in
the side was that if the main wicket-keeper was
injured or sick or could not keep for whatever
reason, Rahul would stand in and do a pretty
Even as his role as a wicket-keeper seemed to be
tapering off, Rahul, although he was just 16 years
of age, was already batting like a champion. He
broke into the State juniors side on the strength
of his batting alone. The State juniors
wicket-keeper that year was Avinash Vaidya, who was
later to become a national wicket-keeping prospect.
Then there was Gopalkrishna, another young
promising keeper and Vinay Badami (son of former
Test umpire Satyaji Rao), who was also a good
wicket-keeper - batsman.
"Thus I was not keeping regularly anywhere by now.
The college team, the club team and the state
juniors all had regular wicket-keepers and I was
doing it just once in a way. And when you don't
keep regularly, the sharpness goes, the momentum
goes. So does the interest. So I told the selectors
that I did not want to be considered as a
batsman-wicket-keeper, but only as a batsman."
Rahul was just 16 then. But he was already sure
that wicket-keeping was not his cup of tea. Fate,
though, had its own plans for him.
Of course Rahul never had to keep in Ranji Trophy
matches. Karnataka had Kirmani and later Avinash
Vaidya. Thus nobody even spoke of wicket-keeping
again to Rahul for the next seven years. He was
scoring plenty of runs and had even started bowling
before fate once again pushed him into
It started innocuously enough. Karnataka
wicket-keeper Avinash Vaidya donned the gloves for
South Zone in the national inter-zone Duleep Trophy
tournament. It was the year 1995 and the main stars
were busy with the home series against New Zealand.
The series during October - November and also the
Duleep Trophy that year, were run-ups to the Wills
World Cup to be staged in India, Pakistan and Sri
Lanka during February-March 1996.
Rahul, like some of the other aspirants, was hoping
to catch the national selectors' eye with some good
performance in the Duleep Trophy. He had already
slammed an unbeaten 145 for Board President's XI
against the Kiwis before the start of the Duleep
Trophy and knew that he was in with a very good
Around this time, South Zone readied for their
crucial game against West Zone at Alwar. It was
then that Rahul was yet again forced to take to the
"Avinash Vaidya injured himself on the morning of
the match. Suddenly I was asked to keep. WV Raman
was our South Zone skipper. I had not kept for
seven years now and was naturally worried. Worse,
the pitch was spinner-friendly and quite a bother.
We had Sunil Joshi, Kanwaljit Singh, Anantha
Padmanabhan and S Vasu in our ranks. All of them
could be a handful on that track. But I took it as
a challenge. We won the match and I must say I
thought I kept well. We went on to win the Duleep
Trophy that year and somebody mentioned my
keeping," said Rahul.
That sowed the seeds for Rahul's greater stint with
the gloves. For the following May, the main Indian
team to tour England was selected. Nayan Mongia was
the first choice wicket-keeper. In fact he was the
only wicket-keeper. The selectors opted for Sanjay
Manjrekar to do the second wicket-keeper's job.
That tour to England was Rahul's first major tour
with the Indian team. He had played in the
Singapore and Sharjah tournaments just a few weeks
earlier. But a Test tour was something else
Early on that tour, as fate would have it, Mongia
suffered a finger injury and could not keep in some
of the side games. Manjrekar stepped in, but lost
interest after a couple of games. It was then that
the team selection panel fell back on Rahul to keep
in a few games.
Yes, I was taken aback. But at that nascent stage
of your career you are willing to do anything to
get into the Indian playing eleven. I hadn't even
carried a pair of gloves. I was that ill prepared
for the task. In fact I was caught totally off
guard. Anyway, I borrowed Nayan's gloves and tried
to do my best.
It was a bit of a challenge as the ball wobbled a
lot in England. Also because it was so cold at that
time to the year, you had to collect cleanly,
failing which the ball would sting the palm despite
the gloves. And since I had had so little practice
with the gloves, I was quite apprehensive. Luckily
I did not keep in too many games!
But if Rahul thought his foray into wicket-keeping
on his first major tour was a one-off thing, he,
and a lot of others, was in for a shock.
Again it was not something planned. Rahul, after
that 1996 tour of England hardly had another look
at the gloves. As far as he was concerned, his
wicket-keeping days were over (see also chapter on
The Glove Poser). And so it was until the Sharjah
tournament in April 1999.
The game was against traditional rivals Pakistan.
Shockingly, five of the Indian players, Amay
Khurasia, Ajit Agarkar, Nikhil Chopra, Vinod Kambli
and wicket-keeper Nayan Mongia were down with viral
fever. While four of the players sat out the match,
Mongia braved the fever and kept wickets as there
was nobody else around. But try as he did, he could
not continue beyond the initial 15 overs. Just as
the skipper Mohammed Azharuddin was wondering at
his plight, somebody recalled that Rahul had once
been a wicket-keeper. It was then that Rahul was
forced to pick up the gloves yet again. Though he
had not kept wickets seriously for three years now,
Rahul did a pretty competent job.
In the next match, against England, Mongia,
standing up, was struck on the face by an Anil
Kumble delivery and had to leave the field. Rahul,
who had to do duty again, called for a helmet with
a grill face protector and stood for the rest of
the match. He enjoyed himself so much in that match
that he pulled off an excellent stumping to dismiss
Graeme Hick off left arm spinner Sunil Joshi.
Later, at a crucial stage in the match, he held a
smart catch off Ajay Jadeja to terminate the
dangerous Neil Fairborther's innings.
That Sharjah tournament was a disaster of sorts for
Mongia. In the next match against Pakistan, another
freak accident laid him low. Shahid Afridi, the
well-built Pakistani opening batsman crashed into
Mongia while unsuccessfully trying to avoid getting
run out. Mongia, however, injured his neck in the
incident and went off the ground for quite a while.
During that period Rahul took over behind the
sticks and once again did pretty well.
Immediately after the Sharjah tournament came the
1999 World Cup in England. Once again, Mongia was
designated the wicket-keeper. He did duty in the
first two matches against South Africa and
Zimbabwe, both of which India lost. The third match
against Kenya threw up the twist that was to
ultimately spell finis to his career.
India batted first and ran up a mammoth total of
329. Rahul, coming in at number three scored a
superb 104. Then, when it was the Kenyans turn to
bat, Mongia injured his hand while failing to
collect cleanly an express delivery from Javagal
Srinath. The injury, in the ninth over of the
innings required attention. The team doctor, Dr
Ravindra Chadda bandaged the hand. This forced the
team to fall back on Rahul to do duty as
Rahul kept against Sri Lanka also before Mongia
returned for the match against England. By now
Rahul, without being spectacular or even brilliant,
was seen as a decent wicket-keeper. He was keeping
with the same competence as a Mongia on the decline
or his replacements MSK Prasad, Sameer Dighe and
In fact, during the Aiwa Cup in Sri Lanka, Rahul
replaced Prasad as the side 's wicket-keeper.
Likewise, later, in South Africa he displaced
Of course Rahul was not keeping wickets either for
Karnataka or South Zone. This meant he was not
getting sufficient match practice as a
wicket-keeper. However the Indian team constantly
depended on him to either substitute behind the
sticks or occasionally to take over as the main
Luckily for Rahul, this was happening only during
major one-day tournaments and not in Tests. His
wicket-keeping ability was seen as a big boon to
the team, particularly as it sorely felt the
absence of a good all rounder.
Rahul's wicket-keeping was helping the team to have
more options, particularly when it came to
strengthening the batting line-up. Skipper Saurav
Ganguly grabbed the opportunity and convinced him
of the need to look at keeping in one-dayers as a
means to strengthen the team. In any case, the
wicket-keeping options available to the selectors
were not so impressive that they could have done
better than Rahul.
Thus in the couple of years leading up to the World
Cup in southern Africa in 2003, Rahul was already
making his presence felt behind the stumps also. By
the time the World Cup came along, he had done
enough work as a wicket-keeper to inspire
confidence in the selectors and his teammates.
Rahul kept wickets splendidly in the World Cup. His
undisputed batting ability also lent an edge to the
team and helped it perform better than it had since
1983. Thus, reluctant as he was, Rahul, right
through his career, from school days to his stint
at the highest level in international cricket, was
pushed into wicket-keeping for the greater good and
glory of his team. Having said never at the age of
16 and stayed away from this aspect of the game for
all of seven years, Rahul's career as a
wicket-keeper (see also chapter The Glove Poser)
had come a full circle.