KL Rahul

KL Rahul always finds a way through


Kannur Lokesh Rahul, or as he’s known in the outside world, KL Rahul, became the 34th individual to captain the Indian men’s Test team on Monday and there is great evidence to suggest we will see him lead many more times.

A cricketer who was struggling to find a place in the Indian setup in January 2021, a cricketer who had not played a Test for two years from 2019-2021 despite having some impressive numbers under his belt, was leading his side out in South Africa in what can be termed a New Year’s surprise.

But more than fortune, it’s justice to his talent and hard work, and more than just a filmy comeback story, he’s scripting one heck of a fairytale where reality seems stranger than fiction. perhaps secretly loves a bit of a downward slope before rising back up. It’s like he loves a comeback story, one where he’s down and out like the protagonists in a Bollywood movie, and out of nowhere, he is back up again.

He never seems to attain a sense of satisfaction, which probably stems from his parents, who according to him, are still not satisfied with their ward’s achievements as he doesn’t have an engineering degree hung on their living room wall (A story mentioned by Rahul during his infamous appearance on “Koffee with Karan”).

KL Rahul – At the heart of Karnataka’s fairytale run

KL Rahul became the first-ever Karnataka cricketer to score a triple century in First-class cricket.

Back in the early years of the last decade, the first major challenge he had to overcome in professional cricket was to make his presence felt in a largely competitive Karnataka setup. He made his first-class debut at the age of 19 for Karnataka, in the 2010-11 edition.

This was a Karnataka unit which, despite producing many incredible talents, went over a decade without a Ranji title, struggling to make its presence felt among the elites of Indian cricket. He got 143 runs in the tournament and went out of consideration quite significantly in the 2011/12 edition and played no part in their Ranji campaign.

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KB Pawan and Robin Uthappa opened the innings throughout the tournament and Karnataka got until the quarterfinals. Manish Pandey, Bharat Chipli and Ganesh Satish getting runs in the middle order consistently denied him a place at least in those positions. This continued until the first half of the 2012/13 Ranji campaign, and he finally broke ahead of a crucial game against Delhi.

The Karnataka selectors did not announce a replacement after dropping KB Pawan, giving a clearance for Rahul to play his first first-class game in over a year-and-a-half. Adding a bit of a Bollywood stir to this was the presence of Rahul Dravid ahead of this encounter against Delhi, who came in to meet the players and provided a pep talk.

He got 400 runs in 5 matches, including a fifty in the quarterfinal against Saurashtra, which they eventually lost. Not to forget, he also rolled his arm over plenty of times in this domestic campaign. He wasn’t the first Rahul, though, to be doing everything asked of him.

Karnataka’s title drought kept intensifying, young Rahul was finding it more and more difficult to remain relevant. But one thing we saw from the cricketer back then, and even now, is that show of hand to take responsibility. He hates going out of the limelight, he might have a few poor outings, but he will fight his way through.

“It felt like winning the World Cup,” said KL Rahul after Karnataka defeated Maharashtra in the Ranji Trophy final in Hyderabad in February 2014. He earned his right to say so, scoring a whopping 1,033 runs in 10 games, only Kedar Jadhav had scored more that season (1,223 runs). He backed it up with 838 runs next season, and his run of form in the group stages didn’t just knock the national doors, it broke them down.

He joined the Karnataka unit for the group stages after getting two Tests in Australia, and smashed a triple ton against Uttar Pradesh, becoming the first-ever Karnataka cricketer to reach that number in first-class cricket. When you reach a place the likes of Rahul Dravid, Gundappa Vishwanath, Venkatraman Subramanya or Brijesh Patel couldn’t, you tend to add value to your stake instantly, which is exactly what this youngster did.

A Rahul always prioritizes team cause

Despite establishing himself as a trusted source of runs since his incredible IPL campaign in 2018 for Punjab Kings, KL Rahul always had a troublesome time understanding what he was supposed to do when called up to the national side. Lack of clarity in his role, adding to it the lack of patience in giving him ample chances to work his way out, made the 29-year-old a nomad in the Indian setup.

He did make it to the 2019 World Cup against a few odds and took over the baton from Shikhar Dhawan who walked back injured in just the second game. He wasn’t at his outrageous best, considering that he prepared himself to be in the middle order in this tournament. He did get a century against Sri Lanka and took his run-tally to 361 runs.

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Then came a time when Rahul popped up in any and every batting position but made significant contributions. It was that phase where he said enough is enough, a lot of time had gone down the drain, and no matter what, he will score runs. That’s what he did in 2021 after India’s spectacular performance in Australia. He scored runs at No.5 in ODIs, and within no time, went over everyone to be the first-choice opener in Tests and T20Is.

It seems like the trick to keeping yourself relevant is very easy to preach and difficult to implement. Just get runs when you’re in the middle, nothing more, nothing less. A lot of aspects are factored in if a batter fails to do a job, but he gave no reasons, only scored runs.

Here he is now, appointed interim captain of ODI and Test team in one of India’s most difficult touring places. A century at the South African fortress of Centurion, a century to get his name at the Lord’s honor board and on the rise to finally fulfilling a prophecy that labelled him the “next big thing” – KL Rahul is on the ascendance and this could just be a start of another fantastic phase in his career.