“Well, I hope so. We have our fingers crossed. I genuinely believe that we were a tad bit unlucky last year. We did play some really good cricket. A couple of the games we really couldn’t close for a couple of reasons. It did hurt a little bit, so I’m hoping the change of name and jerseys, and a whole lot of other changes, will bring us some good fortune,” Rahul thinks the move to rechristen Kings XI Punjab to Punjab Kings, among other things, might bring some fortune this time around.
Rahul was speaking during a podcast Decoding Athletes organised by Red Bull which also involved Rajasthan Royals’ (RR) Ben Stokes and Indian women cricket team opener Smriti Mandhana. The session was moderated by former England cricketer Isa Guha.
TEAMS SHAPING UP WELL
Rajasthan and Punjab will open their campaign against each other on April 12 in Mumbai, and the squads of both the teams make it tough to predict which team will enjoy the upper hand. RR’s Ben Stokes says the team is shaping up well. “Everybody is now out of their quarantine. It was good to get together, meet new faces and get some time in the nets. Obviously, we’ve got a few guys who were taking it a bit easy. But they’ve been for a week in quarantine, so don’t want to push them too hard, especially with this being such a long tournament. Everyone’s out and about, and it’s good to get together as a team,” the England all-rounder said.
CHALLENGES IN TRAINING & SUPPORT SYSTEM
PBKS skipper and RR all-rounder Stokes revealed the specifics of the physical training during mandatory quarantine and other challenges in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“I knew staying in the room for seven days was not going to be great for me in terms of my body. To go out in the Mumbai heat to perform in the league, which is high intensity, and no matter how much you want to hold yourself back, it’s very difficult to do that. We as players want to give everything we have, and the intensity of the league brings it out of us. So it was important for me to stay fit and sharp and do as much as I can for the quarantine. The home gym provided to us has been a real blessing,” said Rahul.
Stokes concurred and added, “Last year, I came to the tournament late. I played the day after I came out of quarantine. People can’t always understand how hot it is and how draining it is here in the subcontinent, and how long it takes your body to get used to the change of climate. It took me three days to recover from a 20-over game, just because of the pure intensity. I think people doing whatever they can to help us get through this quarantine period is massive.”
In Pics – Bio-bubbles, training sessions and the COVID scare: Build-up to IPL 2021
The 14th edition of the world’s biggest T20 franchise cricket tournament — the Indian Premier League is all set to commence from April 9 with the defending champions Mumbai Indians taking on Royal Challengers Bangalore in the tournament opener in Chennai. (Photo credit: BCCI/IPL)
STOKES’ MAGICAL TOUCH
Known for his penchant for handling pressure situations well, the RR batsman believes that when you’re in the heat of the moment in a game, you just assess the situation in the given moment as opposed to thinking too far ahead. “But I can also contradict myself, and especially in white ball cricket, you’re thinking to get the end of the innings right. Maybe thinking: where would I like to be at with five overs left and not chasing it too much? For me, having that mindset, especially while chasing is what has helped over the last four-five years which takes away the pressure that you can get in a game. So rather than focusing on the here and now, you think about where you want the game to be with five overs left. It’s worked for me,” said Stokes, who is gearing up to play his fourth season for RR.
PUNJAB’S 8 CR BUY MEREDITH
With the aim of having someone who could bowl at serious pace, Punjab had splurged on uncapped Australian pacer Riley Meredith, whom they bought at Rs 8 crore in auction for this year’s IPL edition. Rahul is excited about having him in the team. “I’m looking forward to watching Meredith bowl. I’ve watched him in a couple of games. He looks like he can bowl some proper pace. That’s something I felt we were missing for a few seasons – someone who can intimidate the opposition with some pace. So I’m really looking forward to watching him bowl,” he added.
Age no bar, at 41, Chris Gayle only ‘keeps getting better and better’ and Rahul cannot wait to see him again smashing maximums. “I obviously played with Chris for a long time. Having him around is great fun. I’m really looking forward to playing with him again. One year older, but every time he comes back, he keeps getting better and better. I really wonder how he does that. It’s like he’s always on the yacht, partying. And then he turns up and plays the way he does. For someone like me who spends three-four hours getting my batting and skill right, I really wonder how he does it. So, I’m really looking forward to having him in the team and hitting some sixes,” PBKS skipper said.
The 28-year-old agreed that what one sees of Gayle on social media does not tell the entire picture. “How much we see on Instagram, he doesn’t seem to have changed his habits. But I am sure, having played for so many years, he knows what to do and when to do. So, it’s not just luck that he turns up and starts performing in the IPL. I am sure there is a method to his madness.”
In the previous IPL edition, where the cricketer from the Carribean scored 288 runs at a strike rate of 137.14 from seven games, he reached a milestone of becoming the first player to have hit 1000 sixes in T20 cricket.
EXPANSION OF WOMEN’s T20 CHALLENGE
Expansion of the Women’s T20 Challenge has always been a topic of discussion, but is yet to see the light of the day. When Guha asked Mandhana about BCCI chief Sourav Ganguly’s suggestion on potentially moving the tournament to seven or eight teams in 2022, she asserted, “I think the kind of performances we’ve had in the last three-four years is great. The average age of the Indian women’s team is 23-24, which means that there are a lot of young players. The league definitely gives a boost to women’s cricket and gives confidence to youngsters. We’ve seen in men’s cricket; debutants are facing 145-150 speed deliveries quite comfortably. You can’t find that they’re nervous on their debut. The league has played a big role in that, and it’s going to help women’s cricket as well. If you really want to get a strong women’s team in India, it’s the right time to get a women’s league.”