Rohit Sharma crosses forty, Virat Kohli scores fifty, Shikhar Dhawan misses century by four runs and yet someone else manages to steal the limelight. It is rare. You have to be very special to do so. And, KL Rahul is. On a good batting deck, India were 198 for three in the thirty-third over when KL Rahul walked in. India were scoring at around six runs per over and Rahul came to bat at an unfavourable position for him – at number five.
An over-conservative KL Rahul
When Rahul walked in, there was a lot of doubt about his approach. The concern was understandable because of the way he batted in the last game. In the first ODI at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, KL scored 47 runs off 61 balls with a strike rate of 77. He failed to score any run off as many as 27 balls with a dot-ball percentage of more than 47.
It was not surprising; Rahul had batted slowly in this format since the World Cup 2019. Although he performed decently in the marquee event in England, his strike rate was less than 80. Rahul hardly played with freedom, and we did not witness the fluent Rahul we were used to in T20Is and the IPL. And, you started missing that Rahul.
Even in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, KL continued with his over-conservative approach at the beginning of the inning. He amassed runs and gained much-needed confidence. The youngster Devdutt Padikkal deserves a bit of credit as well – he played the role of an aggressor and allowed him to bide his time.
After playing cricket in the domestic circuit, Rahul looked in super touch in the shortest format for India. Rahul just owned the stage and added fire to an existing debate – the popular Rahul vs Dhawan in T20Is – with his bat. Cometh the ODIs, the same over-conservative approach was back again. Although the formats are different, the colour of the ball is still the same. The intent to score runs wasn’t the same as in T20Is. The man is in form and high on confidence. You wonder what has happened to him! Probably, too concerned to cement his spot in the team?
The free-flowing Rahul returns at Rajkot
In case you’ve forgotten, India were 198 for three in the 33rd over when KL Rahul came to the crease. India had seventeen overs left to bat, aiming to put up a mammoth total on the board, given the pitch was a belter. Rahul had about one-third of the time to score as compared to the time he has while opening. For a change, the intent to score runs was positive. Having defended his first delivery, Rahul took a single off the next ball.
The next ball Rahul faced, Mitchell Starc bowled a half-volley outside off and Rahul timed it for four through the covers. The next boundary Rahul scored was after thirteen balls; however, he rotated the strike regularly this time around. The right-handed batsman continued accumulating runs and ensured the number of dot balls is minimal.
Rahul scored a few boundaries as well. Using the depth of the crease, he played a cut shot against Ashton Agar and got a four.
Playing a sweet paddle pull, Rahul scored a boundary against Kane Richardson on the last ball of the 40th over.
Agar bowled an over-pitched delivery, Rahul shuffled a bit, played a lofted shot and launched the ball on to the sight-screen. A maximum, the first of his innings at the point of time.
The stage was set for a Rahul-Kohli show in the death overs. However, the India skipper was dismissed by Adam Zampa yet again, in the 44th over. A very good partnership of 78 runs off just 63 balls came to an end.
KL Rahul shines in the death-overs
Manish Pandey came to bat and could manage to score only two runs off four balls. After Kohli, Pandey was also sent back to the hut in the next over by Richardson. In the last five overs, Starc had to bowl three overs, both Pat Cummins and Richardson one. You don’t expect Ravindra Jadeja to go berserk at the beginning of his inning, with two gun-pacers having four out of five overs, Thus, the responsibility was mainly on Rahul to cash in on the death overs.
Attempting a wide-yorker, the left-arm seamer bowled a low full toss, Rahul guided it for four; although not in full control. He completed his fifty off 38 deliveries, raised his bat and acknowledged the loud-cheer from the crowd.
The next ball Starc bowled was in the slot, and Rahul played the shot of the day and collected another maximum. Starc bowled the delivery with a speed of 140 kph, tells you how much time Rahul has.
In his next over, Starc clocked 140 kph mark again, however, a backfoot punch dispatched the ball for a four.
The next man was Cummins, bowling his last over. The right-arm paceman bowled a short ball, Rahul made room and whacked it for a six over the third man.
The next delivery was a yorker but Rahul couldn’t care less. He moved a bit, used the depth of the crease and flicked it for a four.
Rahul thrived in the slog overs and how wonderfully he did! He was on 46 (off 32 balls) till the 45-over mark, and he finished his knock at 80 off 52 balls. In the slog overs, the elegant batsman accumulated 34 runs off just 16 balls against high-quality fast-bowlers. Rahul smacked three fours and a couple of sixes against the likes of Starc and Cummins.
KL Rahul, batting at No.5, scored 80 off 52 balls at SR of 153.84.
Before this, the last time an India batsman scored 50+ at SR of 150+ batting at No. 5 or lower when batting first was in 2013 – Dhoni 62 (38) v Aus at Bengaluru.
Top innings from KL down the order! #IndvAus
— Bharath Seervi (@SeerviBharath) January 17, 2020
— Cricket.com (@weRcricket) January 17, 2020
No bowler was good enough to get Rahul’s wicket at Rajkot as he was run-out by Alex Carey in the last over.
Breakdown of KL Rahul’s blistering knock
KL Rahul paced his knock beautifully in the second ODI against Australia.
|0-10||0, 1, 4, 2, 0, 1, 1, 1, 0, 0||10|
|11-20||1, 1, 1, 0, 1, 1, 4, 1, 1, 1||12|
|21-30||4, 0, 1, 1, 1, 6, 2, 1, 1, 0||17|
|31-40||2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 4, 6, 1||19|
|41-52||1, 1, 4, 1, 1, 2, 0, 6, 4, 1, 1, 0||22|
In the first ODI of the series, he faced 47.5% dot balls. The percentage fell to 17.30 in the second game – a massive improvement. His 65.34% runs came through strike rotation viz a viz singles and doubles. He scored just one boundary, yet had 14 runs to his name in the first fifteen balls of his inning. In the middle phase of his knock (21-30 balls), he accelerated well, scoring 17 runs. He was very clinical and faced just two dot balls in his 22 deliveries in the slog overs.
How flexible is KL Rahul?
The 27-year-old batsman has attracted a lot of criticism in his international career so far. India’s overseas cycle in 2018-19 was horrendous for him in the longest format. A lot of hopes; backed up to the hilt in Test cricket but Rahul didn’t yield fruitful results. And, in ODI cricket, he has been unfairly criticised for his performance.
Yeah, ‘unfair criticism’ because he has not been allowed to settle into one position – a result of poor management of a player. He wasn’t given enough chances on a regular basis to seal his spot in the middle-order. He stayed with the team as a back-up opener for the bilateral series before the World Cup. Rahul was also picked in the World Cup squad as a reserve opener. However, he batted at number four in India’s first game, at six in India’s second game and opened in rest of the games.
After the World Cup, he was in the squad as a reserve opener. Rahul also featured in India’s XI, when any of Dhawan and Rohit was not in the squad. Shreyas Iyer was bought in the team. Rishabh Pant batted at four for a few games along with Iyer at five. However, Iyer later moved to four with Pant at five.
Fast forward to this series, the Karnataka-born batsman batted at three in the first game. This experiment lasted only one match and Rahul was demoted to bat at three down.
It looks like the team management put small chits of different batting positions in a container, Rahul is asked to choose one, and his batting position is decided by this way.
The uncertainty in his position doesn’t end here. Rahul might open again in the third ODI at Bengaluru, as Shikhar Dhawan was hit on the rib-cage and might miss the last game, and Rohit also has a concern with his left hand.
Despite constant changing and chopping in his roles, the swashbuckling batsman has managed to become the third-fastest Indian to amass 1,000 runs in One Day Internationals.
Fastest Indians to 1000 ODI runs:
24 – Kohli
24 – Dhawan
25 – Sidhu
27 – KL RAHUL
29 – Dhoni
29 – Rayudu
30 – Sanjay Manjrekar#IndvAus
— Bharath Seervi (@SeerviBharath) January 17, 2020
Let’s take a look at his performance by different batting positions in the ODI Cricket:
Whilst the average while opening the innings is good, the strike rate is not up to the mark in modern-day cricket. The strike rate at five and six are scintillating, however, the sample size is not large enough.
This knock was Rahul’s first 50+ score coming at the non-opening position. He is a regular opening batsman and is best suited for that role. However, the Indian team management can think to accommodate Rahul in the middle-order, thanks to this knock. And, if they do so, they should ensure that Rahul is backed fairly and isn’t playing for his place in the team.
Rahul can be a very good middle-order batsman as well. A middle-order batsman should be a good player of spin and he can milk spinners in the middle overs and has the capability to play lofted shots as well. Batting in the middle-order also demands solid gameplay against pace, particularly to accumulate runs in the death overs. Rahul is not a pace power-hitter, rather relies on timing the ball. He has also had success doing that in the slog overs. He has bossed even bowlers like Jasprit Bumrah and Jofra Archer in the IPL. We witnessed an exhibition of it at Rajkot yesterday – scoring runs in the death overs by just timing the ball.
With the gloves, Rahul affected three dismissals behind the stump – two catches and a stumping. Rahul bagged his third ‘Man of the Match’ award in ODI for his brilliant performance throughout the match. In the post-match presentation, Rahul said,
“Each day I’ve been thrown different roles and responsibilities and I’m enjoying it for now. Batting at 5, I wanted to give myself a few balls, you know what the wicket is doing and Virat said that it’s coming on nicely. A few came off the middle, and I was confident I could score, and everything else faded away. Glad I got some partnerships going and played my role to the best of my abilities. Kuldeep told me my ‘keeping was good too. I grew up ‘keeping but I didn’t do it a lot for my first-class team, but in the last few weeks I did keep for Karnataka, so I’ve been in decent wicketkeeping touch, so hopefully I can keep my spinners and fast bowlers happy.”
Over to India on how to use him and his multi-faceted skills.