For someone still growing into his captaincy shoes, KL Rahul is impressively clear-headed about his leadership philosophies. As skipper of the newly-named Lucknow Super Giants franchise, Rahul knows his responsibilities as captain will only grow and as he says, a steep learning curve lies ahead.
TOI caught up with Rahul to talk about the start of his journey with Lucknow and his approach to captaincy.
Excerpts from an exclusive conversation…
You have repeatedly talked about growing as a captain, of being on a learning curve with the Indian team. In this context, what sort of opportunity does the stint with Lucknow Super Giants offer you?
What I’ve felt in the last two-three years, since I started captaining, is that captaincy is one thing you can only get better at. You can only learn when you really captain a team. You can be a player, you can be part of a leadership group, and you might be a senior player, and you (might) feel that, yes, I can do that role really well if given the opportunity. But it’s very different when you’re actually given that role and that opportunity and when you have to make those calls in the middle. Every game is a learning curve, and I don’t think it’ll ever stop (being that) until I finish my career as player or captain. I’m very excited to join Lucknow and the RPSG Group. We had some chats and I was very happy. I didn’t have any second thoughts. Sir (franchise owner Sanjiv Goenka) and I really hit it off.
Is there a sort of captaincy template you subscribe to?
It’s how you take each game. With the wins, the losses, there’s always learning, (about) how you can stay balanced, how you can keep getting better as an individual and as a team. That’s the only template I have as captain, to learn from each game. The mistakes will happen, but if we can delay the mistakes for as long as 10 games or 20 games, we will be a better team. That is something I’ve learned in the first two years of my captaincy. The thing that I’m learning on the go is how I can bring the best out of players. That is the most important thing as leader, to make sure that the players are in the right mindset and enjoying their cricket. Yes, there is a lot of pressure but it is about how the players can still find joy in going out. That is when you can bring in your best performance. That is key for me as a leader and also for us as a franchise. That’s been the chat, about creating an atmosphere where everyone feels part of a family, where everyone wants to come back for these two months to do something special.
KL Rahul. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
How excited are you to start a team from scratch?
It’s very exciting. I think very few from my time will get this opportunity. The team is from scratch but the RPSG Group has had a couple of years in the IPL (earlier, with the Pune franchise) and they have experienced a bit of success. Hopefully we can all continue from there and build a franchise which will compete well and contribute some really good cricketers for our country.
Among the two players Lucknow have retained is leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi, who played with you in Punjab. Is he one for the future?
He has a lot of fight in him. That’s something that stood out from the first game of the IPL that he played, coming off an under-19 World Cup. IPL is a big stage and it didn’t seem like the occasion got the better of him. He wanted to be in a fight. He was bowling against Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer and they are really good players of spin, so I threw him the ball and said, “This is gonna be tough.” He said, “No, it doesn’t matter, I’ll get them out.” That’s the kind of attitude he has. For a little guy he has huge heart. He can be the next big thing in Indian cricket. The responsibility is on us to help him discover his potential so he can get into that national team and become one of the key spinners for Team India.
Are you an instinctive leader or someone who goes more by the data?
It has to be a good balance. I always rely more on my instinct and gut feel and on my understanding of a situation. I do spend time before the game with the analyst and understand if there are great matchups that we can use against a batter. Also understand the ground, the conditions. There’s always stats, patterns we can use to our advantage. But mostly it is instinct and my understanding of what can be the right call. I also want to say that a captain is only as good as his team. A team of XI members wins a championship. It can’t be done by one person or even three-four people. That’s why we are trying to build a team with players who have more than one skill to offer. That is where T20 cricket or white ball cricket is headed towards.
Towards multi-skilled players?
If you look at all the successful teams, Mumbai, CSK, they’ve always packed their team with allrounders. That is why they’ve been successful for a longer period of time. That’s the kind of team we would like to build.
Any discussions with Gautam Gambhir (mentor) and Andy Flower (head coach) yet?
Yes, we’ve had lots of discussions. Every third day there are different strategies we’re speaking about. There’s so much cricket going on that there’s always somebody new, always somebody exciting!