“I have always played my cricket thinking like the captain of the team, even though I wasn’t. I am always trying to read the situation, trying to see what I would do if I were a captain. So I feel it is just going to be an extension of what I have been doing,” KL Rahul told ESPNCricinfo before his captaincy debut for Kings XI Punjab in the upcoming Indian Premier League season.
If one looks at Rahul’s international career so far, we realize that the batsman has duly fulfilled all duties that have been asked of him by the team management. Bat at number four – yes. Shikhar Dhawan is injured; open the batting – yes. Rishabh Pant is dropped; keep wickets and bat in middle-order – yes. Though the sample size is small, he has done reasonably well in every task that was provided.
In the IPL, Rahul first played as a wicket-keeper batsman for Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2013. However, he kept wickets for the entire season only in 2016 when he batted in the middle-order for RCB. After missing out on the 2017 IPL, Rahul came back as an opening batsman who kept wickets for Kings XI Punjab in 2018. In 2019, he played as a wicket-keeper only when Nicholas Pooran was not a part of the playing eleven.
This year, too, whether he keeps wickets or not will depend on the team combination that he wants to play as captain. “I don’t know what Anil [Kumble] bhai is thinking. We’ll see how the team combination sits. We do have plenty of options for wicketkeeper-batsmen. We will take it as it comes. We haven’t really spoken about what role each one’s going to play yet,” he told ESPNCricinfo.
However, Rahul would likely want both Chris Gayle and Glenn Maxwell in the playing eleven, at least early in the tournament, as the last time when the IPL happened in the UAE, Maxwell had the dream run with the bat. It implies that it might be hard for Pooran to start the tournament as Rahul can play only two among Pooran, James Neesham, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Sheldon Cottrell and Chris Jordan.
Considering the lack of Indian fast bowlers in the squad, Pooran might not be playing unless either of Gayle or Maxwell have a series of bad performances enough to be dropped. It is most likely that Rahul would be doing the triple role of captain, opening batsman and wicket-keeper.
The last time someone did that role successfully in the IPL was way back in 2009 when Adam Gilchrist won the tournament for Deccan Chargers. Gilchrist has captained in 74 of the 80 matches that he has played in the IPL. Kumar Sangakkara – another wicket-keeper who captained in 46 matches, hardly opened the batting.
Even in T20 internationals, there aren’t many who have skippered, opened and kept wickets. Among the current players, only Quinton de Kock does all three, and the sample size is way too small to understand or conclude any kind of difficulties the role posses. There is not much of a difference in ODI statistics too. It is also a matter-of-fact that the role of a wicket-keeper in the shortest format has changed over the last few years, especially in the franchise based leagues.
As long as the keeper is good enough to not drop many catches and not give away byes, their primary role in the team is judged based on their performance with the bat. For example, Robin Uthappa, who is not a specialist keeper, played as a wicket-keeper/opener for Kolkata Knight Riders and played a crucial role during their victorious campaign in 2014.
On that front, Rahul has done extremely well in the last couple of years for Kings XI Punjab. In 2018, he amassed 659 runs at an average of 54.91 and a strike rate of 158.21. Similarly, in 2019, in the six matches that he donned the gloves, Rahul scored 253 runs at 50.6.
This year, more than anything else, Rahul would want the results to go his way early in the tournament so that the captaincy doesn’t affect his primary role as a batsman in the team.
What also adds to the matter is that he is captaining a franchise that has used the most number of captains in the history of the Indian Premier League. KXIP has used twelve captains in as many seasons in the tournament. No captain has lasted more than a couple of seasons in the franchise.
While it is true that Gilchrist was the last to win the tournament while donning the triple role for a team, what goes unnoticed is that, since then, no one has done that for any franchise in the league.
Parthiv Patel did it in one match for Kochi Tuskers Kerala, and Brendon McCullum in three matches for KKR in 2009. So, there is not much for Rahul to look up to, and at the same time, there isn’t much for him to worry about as well.