I must have been eight years old when I saw Rahul bhai bat for the first time. I watched him bat on India’s tour of England in 2002, and then that double-century in Adelaide, which remains my favourite innings of his.
I think I became a serious fan of him when I was around 13 years old. The thing that stood out for me was that he put a price on his wicket. He was a fighter – as long as Rahul bhai was the crease, it was very difficult for the opposition to take wickets. As a spectator you felt comfortable that India would not collapse; as long as he was at the crease, we would put up a reasonable total. To bowl India out, you had to get him out as the opposition. He provided that solidity.
I observed his technique and temperament closely. The way he spoke about the game, he had a lot of knowledge, but he always kept his game simple and did not complicate things too much.
By coincidence, both of us have used the same kit – from SG. I never used the same bat as him, though, but I always wanted the “Dazzler” batting gloves he used, that SG made. I really liked the design, and when I signed with SG for the first time, I asked them for those gloves.
Despite my enchantment with him, I did not copy him. There is a similarity in our games, but that’s not because of my fascination with him. That came mainly through my experiences with Saurashtra, where I learned that scoring a hundred alone isn’t enough, you have to carry your team. That is how I learned responsibility – it is about helping my team to raise a big total, and for that I ought to attach importance to my wicket. I learned that from my junior cricket days with Saurashtra, which was a weaker team in domestic cricket.
Yes, you could say that I subconsciously imbibed that from Rahul bhai. His influence had shaped my thought process.
Meeting your idol is always special. I remember meeting Rahul bhai for the first time around 2006 or 2007. It was the Race Course ground in my home town, Rajkot. India were preparing for some series. I remember someone introduced me to him, and I think he had heard my name already: I had just played for India Under-19 and the Deodhar Trophy, and had scored some runs in the Ranji Trophy. I think he was a little busy at the time, but he said that I could always chat to him whenever I came to Bangalore to the National Cricket Academy.
As it happened, I made my India debut in Bangalore, in the second Test of the Australia series in 2010, which we won. It was a memorable few days for me, especially the 72 I made in the second innings that contributed to the win.
The best part about Rahul bhai has been that he understands a player’s psychology. I was lucky that I had him around when I started playing cricket. He had already gone through so many things in his journey, so he was able to tell me what I could expect, in a way.
He helped me understand when I was young that it is not all about technique. As a young cricketer you might want to focus on technique a lot, but eventually I realised – yes, you need technique, but there are other aspects as well.
There is one other thing I will be thankful to him for. He helped me understand the importance of switching off from cricket. I had the same thought, more or less, but when I spoke to him, it gave me a lot of clarity about it and I was sure of what I needed to do. I also saw in county cricket how they keep personal and professional lives separate. I value that advice a lot. Many people consider me to be focused. Yes, I am focused, But I also know when to switch off. There is life beyond cricket.
I cannot say in one line what Rahul bhai means to me. He has always been an inspiration, and will remain one.