KL Rahul, India's stand-in skipper in their victory over New Zealand in the fifth and final T20I in Mount Maunganui, said that the side is focused on lifting their second ICC Men's T20 World Cup trophy later this year.
India claimed a historic 5-0 win over New Zealand and broke multiple records with the sweep. It was their first-ever T20I series victory in New Zealand, as well as the first time a team claimed a bilateral T20I series by a margin of 5-0.
Rahul had a pathbreaking series himself, where he redefined his role in the team, making himself an indispensable member. He not only led the run-scoring charts with 224 runs in five innings, but also kept wickets in all games, claiming three catches and effecting one stumping.
Rahul also took over as skipper in the second innings of the final game, after stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma walked off due to a calf injury. Virat Kohli, India's regular captain, was rested for the match. "It was a special feeling, leading your country is always the second dream - the first one is, of course, to play for your country," Rahul said after the game on Sunday, 2 February.
"It was unfortunate what happened to Rohit. Every day I wake up, everyday I'm thrown a new responsibility. I'm very grateful and I'm loving the challenges being thrown at me. It was great to see how we responded without our main leaders – Rohit and Virat."
The 27-year-old spoke highly of Rohit and Kohli, adding that he gets heaps of inspiration from the Indian dressing room. "When there are players like Virat and Rohit in the dressing room, you don't need to look too far for inspiration," he said. "Jasprit [Bumrah], too, is an inspiration to the guys in the dressing room due to the consistency and his performances.
"It's not easy to get chances at this level of cricket, and you start to comprehend that after 2-3 years of international cricket, that you have to utilise your chances to the fullest. The talent and the competition in our country do not warrant too many chances, and we all understand that in the team. We are aggressive on the field, but we also have smiling faces in the middle, because we want to be there, we want to be out there in a win or a loss and just enjoy the game of cricket and give it all we have."
India won the inaugural Men's T20 World Cup in 2007 but haven't been able to lift the trophy ever since. Rahul says that the team is now keen on winning the seventh edition of the tournament, which will be held in Australia later this year.
"We're a young team, love spending time with each other, and there is absolutely no divide between the seniors and the juniors," he acknowledged. "We all have a common goal - to win games of cricket. We are all focused on winning the (T20) World Cup - that's a common goal, and we're trying to maximise our preparations for the World Cup.
"Every month we are playing so much, it's hard on the body as well, and for everyone to stay fit mentally and physically and perform like this is phenomenal. This team is a coach's dream and a captain's dream."
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