Finding his feet in junior cricket, Rahul understood very early

Finding his feet in junior cricket

- By Vedam Jaishankar

Rahul understood very early that junior cricket was only a stepping stone to bigger things. This might sound simple but it has to be understood that a great many youngsters' quest for a place in the State junior cricket teams was only to gain admission in engineering and medical colleges.

Of course some realised pretty early that they were not cut out to play the game at the highest level and chose instead to seriously pursue a career in the sciences. In Karnataka, as indeed in a few other states in the country, representing the state in a major sport helped to gain admission to `professional' colleges. Engineering and medical colleges in the State had a quota for sportsmen and getting into one of the many junior state teams (Under-13, Under-15, Under-17, and Under-19) was, for many, one of the easier ways to gain admission through the quota system.

junior cricket

Rahul raises his bat after
completing a hundred against England at Nottingham, 2002

The admission process into these courses was so intense that students usually needed marks in excess of 95 per cent to be considered for merit seats. The grace marks that went with sports quota thus came in handy in many situations. Indeed many a cricketer went through junior cricket with the sole aim of squeezing into these professional courses.

But this was not the case with Rahul. His ambitions in the game were far greater, as will be revealed throughout this book. On completion of his ICSE, he sat with his parents to decide his future. Rahul was very clear that he did not want to seek a career in either engineering or medicine as it would seriously curtail his pursuit of cricket.

"Rahul told us (the parents) that he would opt for a course in commerce. If by chance he did not make it big in the game, he assured us that he would concentrate on a course in business management and get into the corporate world. We were in a position to asses his potential in the corporate world and knew that he could make it big there even at a later stage. But since his interests and love lay in playing cricket we decided to back him to see how far he could go,''said Sharad Dravid.

When still in school Rahul realised that the competition on the cricket field was immense and he needed to do everything possible to stay ahead of the pack. Once he came to terms with this he willingly went the extra mile right from a young age. The fact that he was very keen to do well and was not a shirker helped with the coaches and selectors. They saw talent backed by intelligence, sincerity and willingness to work hard and therefore gave him all the encouragement.

In the process, Rahul also got a few good breaks. One was the absence of a wicket-keeper in his first camp at KSCA. He admitted that was the sole reason for him to volunteer to keep wickets. Of course the fact that his neighbour was Sadanand Vishwanath, the Test wicket-keeper, must have subconsciously inspired him to try his hand at it. Whatever the reasons, his stint behind the wickets came in handy when he competed for a berth in the various age group teams. The selectors identified him as a wicket-keeper who could bat well. His wicket-keeping came as a value addition and thus gave him the edge in the early days.

In his very first year with the State Under-15 team, his wicket-keeping, rather than his batting, convinced the selectors to include him in the South Zone Under-15 team. He went as a second wicket-keeper and later got into the South Zone camp.

"The selectors picked me for wicket-keeping. So in the strict sense it was my keeping that fetched me the break,'' said Rahul. That season, Karnataka played just one under-15 game, against Andhra in Bangalore, and lost. Rahul did not score many runs. Though his side lost, he still made it into the South Zone side as the second wicket-keeper. The boost was enough to fuel his ambitions further.

Rahul worked very hard at the Thiruvananthapuram camp and carried the hard work through the year. During this period he really put heart and soul into school, club and state junior team nets.

In this Rahul was greatly helped by St Joseph's Boys School principal Fr. Dennis Coelho. Coelho was a strict disciplinarian for whom academics came first. In Rahul's case, though, he realised that the young boy was an outstanding student and whatever he missed by staying away from classes, he could easily grasp with a little bit of extra help. Coelho had confidence in Rahul's ability and motivation to catch up with the rest of the class in a very short time.

Fr. Coelho's support was vital in his development at that critical stage of his career. Without the support, Rahul could simply not have spent those crucial extra hours at the nets. Those days the state junior nets were at KSCA's matting facility. KSCA did not provide breakfast and such other facilities that now seem the norm for State teams' practise. Nor did the association then have a gymnasium, locker room and allied facilities.

Rahul would catch the early morning Bangalore Transport Service (BTS - public transport) bus from Indiranagar, his place of residence, to KSCA and work in the nets from 6.15 a.m. till 9 a.m. He would then change into school uniform on the deserted stairs of the Western Stand, for on those days there was no changing room facility in the outside practice ground. He would wolf down the breakfast he'd brought from home on the same stairs and then, with cricket kit and school bag thrown over his shoulders he'd run the couple of kilometers distance to school.

Armed with his favourite fruit, apple, which he would devour while jogging to school, Rahul would reach late. On rare days he used to treat himself to a masala dosa at the now defunct Shreeraj restauraunt (where The Chancory now stands) outside the KSCA. Often, by the time he made it to class a couple of periods would have lapsed. But since Rahul was an excellent student Fr Coelho gave him special permission to come late to school. The teachers too did not mind.

Extracted from Rahul Dravid A Biography by Vedam Jaishankar.