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Does the OG Rahul still exist? And how long will Rohit get a pass?

article_imageBATTER NARRATIVES
Last updated on 29 Mar 2023 | 02:42 PM
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Does the OG Rahul still exist? And how long will Rohit get a pass?

Ahead of the season, we look at the narratives surrounding selected Indian batters, both seniors and rookies

Will the real KL Rahul please stand up? (does he even exist anymore?)

KL Rahul can score heaps and heaps of runs without getting bored — we know this.

But is he capable of scoring quickly? Does he still have it in him to bat freely like someone that’s unbothered by batting average?

Prior to the T20 World Cup in Australia, Rahul Dravid, Rohit Sharma and others emphatically answered ‘yes’ to the question above but that turned out to be a lie — Rahul ended the tournament with an SR of 120.75.

Such is the transparency in the selection here that we still don’t know if Rahul was dropped or rested for the bilaterals against Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

Regardless, the only way the management can justify going back to Rahul in T20Is again, you feel, is if he goes back to playing the way he did in IPL 2018, where he was a proper intent merchant. 

So, does that Rahul still exist? 

It’s unbelievable, really, that we find ourselves asking this question prior to an IPL season yet again. 

Has Kohli actually gotten comparatively better against spin, or was the Asia Cup a one-off?

If you’ve followed the last few seasons of the IPL closely enough, you know that Virat Kohli struggles against spin. Particularly in the middle overs (7-15).

Since 2018 in the IPL, Kohli’s been striking at 109.7 against spin in overs 7-15. Since 2020, this number has further fallen to 104.1.

But here’s the thing — he only struggles to hit the slower bowlers, he seldom gets out to them. During the same period, he’s averaged 71 against spin, having been dismissed just 5 times in 341 balls.

TL;DR: Kohli can survive against the spinners but not take the attack to them.

We’re curious to see if things will be different this IPL; if Kohli’s SR improves against the tweakers.

Curiously enough, there were positive signs in the Asia Cup six months ago. 

There, not only did his overall SR vs spin shoot up to 135.5, his numbers in the middle overs improved too: Kohli struck at 125.4 versus the slower bowlers in the 7-15 phase.

He was expected to struggle big time in the Afghanistan clash thanks to the presence of Rashid and Mujeeb, but in a twist no one saw coming, Kohli ended up smashing 54 off 33 against the spinners, tonking 3 sixes in total. He unleashed a couple of full-blooded slog-sweeps, something he would later go on to employ against Australia and also in the T20WC.

This IPL, guess we’ll be finding out if Kohli has actually gotten better against spin, or if the Asia Cup was just a one-off.

Rohit Sharma needs a strong IPL — it’s getting a bit embarrassing now

The graphic above explains pretty much everything but either way, in the last 5 years, Rohit has arguably been the worst batter in the IPL (among the big dogs).

13 batters have scored 2,000 or more runs in the IPL since 2017 and only two — Rohit and Nitish Rana — have averaged under 30. Among the two, Rohit has not only averaged 3 fewer than Rana but also has batted way slower.

Rohit’s hideous IPL form has always been played down because of his tendency to perform better in national colours but it’s two World Cups in a row now that he’s failed to show up, and so there’s a good case to argue that there needs to be plenty of scrutiny on him heading into this season.

If he once again underwhelms, what’s the incentive for the management to persist with him in T20Is?

You could say ‘captaincy’ but that doesn’t stand true anymore either, for India have a ready-made replacement in Hardik Pandya waiting to take over the reins.

For his own sake, Rohit needs a big season.

Riyan Parag finds himself in an awkward situation 

Riyan Parag finds himself in an awkward situation — nopeeee, not because of his tweets but due to how RR have gone about constructing their side.

For the past three seasons, RR have exclusively deployed Parag as a finisher — 34 of his 40 innings since 2020 have come at No.6 or lower — but while he’s played many a gem down the order, it is obvious that being denied opportunities to bat higher up the order have stopped him from enjoying a head-turning breakthrough season. 

There’s more than enough evidence to suggest that he’s one extended run in the Top 4 away from flipping the current narrative around him (that he’s ‘overrated’ and ‘not good enough’).

But here’s where things get complicated: the only way RR can facilitate Parag in the Top 4 is if they push Samson down to No.5 or No.6 because clearly, Padikkal is unsuited for a finisher role.

A Parag-Samson swap might in fact work, considering Samson can play No.6 — and he might have a vested interest, considering he’s gunning for the same spot in the national side — but we have to ask the question: will RR be ready to do the same? The answer is probably not.

Across the last two seasons, Samson has 863 runs @ 37.39 and a strike rate of 143.1 batting at No.3. In a realistic sense, there’s zero incentive for RR to fix something that’s not broken, considering they made the final last year as well.

So Parag might just have to make do with the No.6 slot, and somehow make such an impact that people automatically start putting respect on his name. Doing something like this will certainly help.

Tilak Varma and Jitesh Sharma — can they avoid the ‘second season syndrome’?

Being young, inexperienced and having a standout season in a cut-throat competition like the IPL is tough. But you know what’s tougher?

Backing up that season with one more stellar campaign; showing consistency. That is truly what separates the best from the rest.

Over the years, we’ve had plenty of cricketers who’ve had one outstanding season but fade into obscurity after, never meeting those high standards again. Mandeep Singh, Mayank Markande and Manan Vohra are some of the recent examples that come to mind. 

Both Tilak Varma and Jitesh Sharma enjoyed breakthrough campaigns in 2022 but awaiting them is a huge couple of months. 

By producing yet another impactful season, the two will go a long way in establishing credibility. That, in turn, will aid their chances of breaking into the national side — big time.

The second-season syndrome, however, is not something to be taken lightly. Just ask Venkatesh Iyer. 

Ishan Kishan can no longer just ride on his 2020 heroics 

After a 516-run season in 2020 where he averaged 57.33 and struck at 145.76, the sky seemed the limit for Ishan Kishan, who at that point looked like a dream T20 batter.

But Kishan has since played 61 T20s — across different levels — and has struck at 124.5 while averaging 28.71. In other words, his T20 career has been on a downward spiral.

There was, of course, realistically no way Kishan could have maintained his 2020 standards but such has been the drop that these days, he looks like a shadow of his old self. So much so that everytime you watch him bat, you’re left wondering, ‘how did he do what he did in 2020?’

Being a left-hander and a wicket-keeper batter — two very important boxes ticked — has meant Kishan has continued to be a part of the T20I side but make no mistake, he’s walking on thin ice.

He needs a season of some credibility to win back the trust of the fans; to prove that 2020 was more than just a freak one-off.

Other narratives

* Sarfaraz Khan needs to crack the IPL code, both for his and DC’s sake. This season will be his eighth in the IPL and the injury to Pant has opened up a golden opportunity for him to finally establish himself in the competition. Missing this bus could prove to be fatal.

* Venkatesh Iyer is also probably playing to save his KKR career. Mind you, the franchise invested INR 8 crore in him, so anything other than an explosive campaign will most likely see him getting released before the mini-auction. 

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