Bastab K Parida
12 Sep 2023 | 03:20 PM

No steam lost in rehab - KL Rahul's consistency calms India

Rahul hasn’t done enough to be in the T20I or Test team anymore, but in ODIs, he continues to be the perfect solution to India's middle-over woes

Has anyone ever divided opinions in recent times as much as KL Rahul? Be it coming off a little eccentric as a batter in the shortest format or finding it difficult to navigate in red-ball cricket, Rahul has had his own share of dilemmas. But in Colombo, within a space of 20 hours, Rahul told us twice why it was worth the wait.

For Indian supporters, this was a moment of validation regarding Rahul's pivotal role in India's ODI plans. Despite coming off a four-month hiatus, there was nothing shabby about his performance. In fact, his seamless return to form was perhaps India's most significant takeaway from the last two games.

On Monday, Colombo turned up for King Kohli’s majestic genius, but Rahul's ball-striking took the cake. A 147kph delivery was met with sheer disdain as Rahul rolled his wrist over for a pull and then followed up with strokes all around the ground to up the ante. 

However, the script took a dramatic twist on Tuesday. The wicket, which had favored seamers the previous day, suddenly transformed into a spinner's paradise from the outset. Indian batters had scored freely against the pacers, maintaining an impressive run rate of 8.1 without any dismissals in the first 25 overs. Yet, when facing the spinners, they struggled, losing three wickets at a run rate of just 3.1.

From that lens, Rahul’s 39-run knock seems an interesting ode to his development as a batter. He has always been good against pacers but sometimes lacks the patience against the tweakers; hence Sri Lanka posed a big challenge. Dunith Wellalage, Charith Asalanka, and Maheesh Theekshana were operating at the peak of their prowess, but Rahul stayed put while maintaining a strike rate of almost 89. The way he handled Wellalage was a lesson on batting in turning pitches. Only if he didn't give away his wicket in a tame fashion while attempting a cut against Wellalage, he would have ended up being revered as a messiah. 

In recent times, the Indian team management’s propensity to walk on a blurred line of faith when distinguishing between formats has ensured that many players are unfairly treated in formats that may be their best. Rahul hasn’t done enough to be in the T20I or Test team anymore, but his impact in ODIs is irrefutable. That is one primary reason why India may not feel the absence of Rishabh Pant in the upcoming World Cup as such, but more crucially, can have the license to go for kill earlier - a template Rohit Sharma is so fond of now.

As a matter of fact, Shreyas Iyer has only had one innings since his return, while Ishan Kishan has made the most of his limited opportunities, impressing with his performances. Had Shreyas been fit, it might have been easy to overlook Rahul, as was initially planned, but then fate conspired in a different way. 

"Five minutes before the toss, Rahul bhai told me you might have to play because Shreyas has a back spasm. At the last minute, our manager had to run to the hotel to get my stuff," he shared with the host broadcaster.

It has been a theme in Rahul’s career for the better part of the last four years. Since taking up the new role as India’s middle-over batter, he has had to encounter varied challenges in varied conditions. Irrespective of India needing him to put his hands up within the first 20 overs or having to wait and steer things through in the last 20, he has averaged over 50. 

But if the assurance from the last two games is anything to go by, India have every reason to feel positive to end the 10-year draught.

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