Having started to play cricket at the age of 12, Rahul played at the state level at the under-15, under-17 and under-19 level. Rahul first came to prominence whilst attending a summer coaching camp at the Chinnaswamy Stadium where his talents were spotted by former cricketer Keki Tarapore who was coaching at the clinic. He went on to score a century on debut for his school team. Along with the batting, he was keeping wickets. However, he later stopped keeping wickets on advice from former Test players Gundappa Vishwanath, Roger Binny, Brijesh Patel and Tarapore.He was selected to make his Ranji Trophy debut in February 1991 against Maharashtra in Pune (while still attending college at St. Joseph's College of Commerce in Bangalore), alongside future Indian teammates Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath, scoring 82 in a drawn match after batting in the No. 7 position. His first full season was in 1991-92, when he scored two centuries to finish with 380 runs at an average of 63.3 , and was selected for South Zone in the Duleep Trophy, for whom he has been subsequently chosen annually.