An "analyst" comes before a "fan" only in a dictionary!
We all are fans first as we love this game and Kannur Lokesh Rahul in recent times is one of the many reasons that I keep falling in love with this game, repeatedly. Rahul has always been a fabulous player, but in the past year since he removed the cobwebs from his internal system, Rahul has been a different player altogether. Dare I say, some of his shots, especially the cover driven sixes are more audacious than his illustrious India skipper Virat Kohli.
Now with the responsibility of captaincy and trying to reinvent himself as a batsman-keeper in white-ball cricket, Rahul is just taking that leap where others will be a few notches behind him. Already 222 runs in three IPL games, a decent job behind the stumps and reasonably good bowling changes until Rahul Tewatia stole the thunder. If the first three matches are any indicator, KL Rahul will be your white ball batsman-keeper for some time now, maybe until 2023 World Cup in India.
He is among the top five white-ball batsmen in world cricket and in terms of sheer craftsmanship as a batter, he is well above his troika of competitors--- Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson and Ishan Kishan.
You must be wondering why I am using batsman-keeper and not the other way round. Simply because any keeper who will be wearing the India blues will be because of their batsmanship while glovework will be a secondary skill as far as T20 is concerned. It will be a bit different in ODI cricket because of duration, but batting will take precedence there as well. That is where Rahul has been cut above the rest with his range of strokes, understanding of different situations and executing the plans accordingly. Unless he wants otherwise, Rahul is India's No 1 batsman-keeper with his ability to bat at any position between 1 and 5.
This adaptability and consistency which has been Rahul's hallmark have been Pant's bane. Considered as a natural successor to MS Dhoni, the burly boy from Roorkee hasn’t exactly set the IPL stage on fire even though his contributions have been pretty decent. It's been way too long that Pant has had an innings of substance across formats and the criticism coming his way is not completely undeserved.
Comparison with Dhoni is unfair but he needs to finish matches and be a little more discreet in his shot selection against slow bowlers. During that KXIP game, I was happy that he was patient during his stand with Shreyas, which meant that he reacted to the situation. He refrained from playing risky shots, played percentage cricket to lay a perfect launch pad for Marcus Stoinis. Yet his manner of dismissal going for a slog sweep would not make a coach happy. The match against SRH was a perfect occasion for Pant to win it singlehandedly for his team. It was disappointing to see how he did the hard job on a sluggish surface in Abu Dhabi only to throw it away.
IPL is one format where you can rave about team effort as much as you want but, an individual will win you games on 6 out of 10 occasions. And when it comes your way, you need to grab it with both hands. Ravi Shastri sitting in Mumbai or Sunil Joshi from his Bengaluru residence are certainly taking a note of conversion of starts.
Talking of conversion, the flavour of IPL's first week is Sanju Samson. The "C" word has been an issue with Sanju in the past but its pleasing to see that he looks determined to change that narrative. The start has been magnificent against CSK and KXIP and the best part is the power in his sixes. It's not that he didn’t hit sixes earlier but somehow the ball is flying off his bat reminiscent of Rohit Sharma's effortless six-hitting. Sharjah being a batting belter helped him hit through the line trusting the even bounce past the shorter boundaries. However, the point is, those sixes would have travelled the distance in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well.
Samson was a part of India's T20 white ball team in New Zealand where he could not capitalise the opportunities. Though he is in the mix and will get chances that are not likely to come ahead of Rahul. How he adjusts to slower wickets will be an area of interest as far as I am concerned. There is a chance that he can be that second wicketkeeper replacing Pant in shorter formats. Expect both Pant and Samson to board that Adelaide bound flight with the jumbo squad for the tour of Australia in December this year.
Pant and Samson will now be on their toes now that Ishan Kishan is back in the mix after that blinder of an innings in Dubai. The leg-side boundary was shorter for a left-hander but to use that effectively was a great show of cricketing smarts. Kishan also has lacked consistency over the years but this is a career-changing innings where he made impossible nearly possible. He matched Kieron Pollard for strokes. What made it more special was the quality of the bowling attack that consisted of Adam Zampa, Yuzi Chahal, Isuru Udana, Navdeep Saini and Washington Sundar - all international bowlers. Ishan Kishan is an India A regular but a 500 run IPL season could catapult him into senior India reckoning.
What I would also like to see is Ishan and Samson keep wickets regularly, especially against the top spinners. The keeper in the shorter format might not come into play as often as the other formats but when they do, it is more often than not an event in itself.
A word of advice and a reminder for the likes of Sanju, Rishabh, and Ishan and maybe not as much for Rahul: You will come in the team because of your batting skills but you can be dropped because of the two stumping across 6 games or the 7 byes you concede.
Yours truly knows it from experience.