KL Rahul wants to make the best use of whatever position he gets, even though he has admitted to being disheartened and "frustrated at times" because team dynamics and combinations haven't afforded ODI opportunities for him recently. However, he also clarified without going into specifics that the team management sat with him and explained what they expect of him going forward.
"The team management has sat me down and explained exactly what they expect out of me. I needed to know personally also, to kind of prepare and know in which direction I'm heading," Rahul said after making a 60 off 66 balls as an opener against Afghanistan. "Whenever I don't get a chance, I use my time to work on my skill and improve my fitness. The amount of cricket we play, the number of days we're on the road, it's hard to keep fit. When I don't play, it's easy to sulk and ask the same question: 'Why am I not playing?' But I try to use the time to improve my skill, get better with my fitness and make the most of it when I get a chance."
Rahul was clear he wasn't comfortable in the middle order, but insisted he would do what the team asked of him, even if it meant batting outside his comfort zone. "Look, it's been challenging of course to bat in different positions, and some positions which I haven't been comfortable with," he said. "I've always batted at the top of the order from junior cricket, that's the most comfortable position for me. But in a team sport, you need to be flexible and whatever responsibility the team gives you. You need to put your hand up and try to do the best you can. Unfortunately, for me, the chances I've got in the middle order haven't really gone my way. Again, I just look to keep working hard, keep improving my game and whatever opportunities I get, I try to give it my best shot."
The Afghanistan game was a banana peel of sorts for Rahul. A big score could have amounted to little when it came to team selection for the final, given Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma - both rested - are likely to slot back in. A failure would have made it hard to convince the team management of his potential in the ODI format, where he has lacked consistency: after scoring 100*, 33 and 63* in his debut series against Zimbabwe, he had a highest score of 17 in eight ODI innings prior to Tuesday.
"I honestly try to keep my batting simple: see ball, hit ball," he said. "I can't worry about how many opportunities I get. Whatever chance I get, I have to back my natural game, which is to take on the bowling and take shots. That's what I try to do. Coming in and out of the team, you don't find your rhythm as soon as you walk in, so like today, I took time. I tried to go hard initially, but I felt like I wasn't in good positions, I was not middling the ball too well. That's when I tell myself to play a couple of balls, take a couple of overs, read the pace of the wicket, get used to being in the middle again and then back my natural game.
"For any middle-order [batsman] in a shorter format, it's difficult because you don't know how many balls you can take, how fast is too fast, how slow is too slow. It's a very tricky situation when you walk in. Even when I walked in, I found it difficult to go straightaway and get the strike rotating, to hit boundaries you've to take a little bit of time."
Rahul and Ambati Rayudu put together a 110-run opening stand as India began cruising early in their chase of 253. Then Rahul was out lbw attempting a reverse paddle off Rashid Khan. Rahul reviewed the on-field decision, which India could have benefited from later as Dinesh Karthik and MS Dhoni were out to doubtful decisions. Rahul rued this impulsive call.
"It's very tricky when you have just one review. Obviously looking back at it, I felt I shouldn't have taken the review," he said. "At that time, I felt I may have been struck outside and wanted to take the chance. Sometimes you can sit here and review the review you took and say 'maybe I could've left it to the guys in the end.' I took the chance, but we learn with it. The shot I played and the review I took, if it happens again, I'll be in a better position to deal with it."
India could not hit the winning runs in the end but for Rahul, this was a game worth remembering for the fight Afghanistan showed. "We've seen how much they've improved over the last two years," he said. "Rashid, Mujeeb [Ur Rahman], [Mohammad] Nabi - all these guys have played in the IPL, they play around the world in different franchises. We can't look at them and think they're a walkover. They keep proving it over and over again.
"You want to be part of games where both teams compete till the end. It was exciting. If the result had gone in our favour, we would've been more happy, but nonetheless, still happy to have played a game like this. It will stay in our memories for a long time."