International debut at the age of 31. Third ball of his innings, and Rahul Tripathi attempts a ramp shot when the Sri Lankan seamers are swinging the new ball to their tune. On the previous delivery, he had charged down the track to get off the mark in international cricket with a boundary past point.
Who does that? (except the superhuman that Suryakumar Yadav is since his first ball in international cricket)
You won’t find many such instances, especially in Indian cricket, where the competition is so intense, careers have been decided based on one opportunity.
But to those who have seen his rise, from his IPL debut for Pune in 2017, to being in contention for a national cap to making his debut, this was somewhat believable. This is what Rahul Tripathi brings to the table. This is what fans had been harping about.
F-E-A-R-L-E-S-S-N-E-S-S ! !
Look at his IPL 2022 numbers. Tripathi mustered 413 runs, averaging 37.6 at a strike-rate of 158.2. The 31-year-old was 15th on the list of the highest run-scorers but had the second highest strike-rate among the top 20 (Liam Livingstone smashed 437 runs at 182.1).
279 of Tripathi’s runs were against pace. 34.9 average, 165.1 strike-rate. 134 runs versus spin, 44.7 average, 145.7 strike-rate. A strike-rate of 142.3 in the powerplay, 157.5 in the middle-overs and 250 at the death.
His impact in the tournament was 31.9, the sixth highest among all specialist batters. That is his USP - the high-impact knocks. Six out of his 14 innings were 30+, all at a strike-rate of over 145.
Tripathi worked his way up from ground zero. Unlike some other batters in the Indian setup, some with the prodigal status, some shining through the U19 setup and some breaking the selectors’ door in domestic cricket at a young age, Tripathi never had any limelight on him. He averaged 18.7 at a strike-rate of 120 for his 168 across four seasons of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy when the now defunct Rising Pune Supergiants fetched him in the 2017 auction.
Tried midway through the tournament as an opener, Tripathi was a revelation. Again, it was his scoring rate that left an impression. Such was his brilliance that he outscored his opening partner Ajinkya Rahane during the powerplay, striking at 157.6 - the highest by an Indian batsman with over 100 runs in the phase that season.
Since his breakthrough year in 2017, 15 batters have accrued 1500 runs batting in the top three. Tripathi is one of the four batters to average above 30 at a strike-rate in excess of 140. The other three are Jos Buttler, Chris Gayle and Sanju Samson. That is an elite company to be in and an ace combination to maintain for over six IPL seasons.
His 16-ball 35 on Saturday (January 7) provided a peek at India’s future if the right players are picked. He bossed both spin and pace during his brief stay. It would be wrong to say that Tripathi set the platform for Surya’s hundred. But he took down Maheesh Theekshana, one of the most economical spinners going around in white ball cricket.
Much like he took only one ball to get his eye in on debut, he defended only the first ball he faced against Theekshana in the fifth over. On the subsequent two deliveries, he exposed his stumps on either side of his body - first sweeping a full ball on the middle stump past square leg for four after shuffling across and then moving outside the leg stump to cut the ball through the off side for another boundary. Again, who does that to a spinner whose modus operandi is a stump-to-stump line at a flatter trajectory?
It is precisely the kind of intent India are eyeing at the top, irrespective of the conditions and the opposition.
"Obviously everyone knows what Surya did, but special mention to Rahul Tripathi," said the skipper Hardik Pandya after the match. "The kind of intent he showed - something which is so natural to him - can change the game and the momentum. If you see the first couple of overs, the ball was doing something, and people outside, even the next batter, they all thought there was something in the wicket. But because of his intent, the bowlers changed their length and all of a sudden the ball stopped moving. Then it was like they [Sri Lanka] were chasing the game."
In another example, Tripathi charged down the track thrice against 140kph deliveries thrice in the series and produced a boundary every time - two fours and a six.
Adding to the charm of Tripathi’s batting is his strokeplay. There is absolutely zero slogging. The mind goes back to the Qualifier 2 of IPL 2021. Chasing 136, Kolkata Knight Riders slid from 123/1 to 130/7. They needed 6 off the last two balls with Tripathi on strike and Ravichandran Ashwin bowling on a sluggish pitch in Sharjah. Aware that Ashwin may refrain from bowling full, the right-hander stayed back in the crease to whack the off-spinner down the ground for a maximum and inch his side across the finish line in the most cool, calm and collected manner.
With little flaws in his game, powerful strike-rates against both spin and pace and across the three phases, Tripathi would get into most T20 sides.
“What I like about his game is his fearlessness. He comes out and plays his game and his shot-making ability, the all-round game that he has, he's not overawed by any opposition or by any bowler, which is great to see," said the former India cricketer and coach, Ravi Shastri, in conversation with Cricinfo during IPL 2022.
After his first series in the Indian jersey, Tripathi has 40 runs in 21 deliveries. In terms of quantity, he has not done enough. But on grounds of intent and impact, he has showcased the team has resources if they are open to picking players without any limelight linked to them.
At this moment, we can only hope Tripathi gets a consistent run in the XI. He can, after all, bat anywhere in the top five. However, he should not be pushed down to number six or below. Rajasthan Royals tried that (in 2018 and 2019) and remains to be in the only side that didn’t bore the rich fruit of Tripathi’s bravado.
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