With scores of 4 and 9 in his first two innings of this year’s ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, India opener KL Rahul is yet to make a mark in this tournament.
Against Pakistan at the MCG, he chopped Naseem Shah on to his stumps while against The Netherlands at the SCG, he missed a flick shot and was trapped leg before wicket by right-arm medium-pacer Paul van Meekeren, the ball heading towards leg-stump and might have stayed as Umpire’s Call had he gone for DRS.
Rahul in full flow is a delight to watch. He can score at a quick pace like he did against South Africa in Guwahati earlier this month in the second T20I, scoring 57 off 28 balls with a strike rate of 203.57.
Rahul also finds the scoring difficult like he discovered in Thiruvananthapuram when he scored an unbeaten 51 off 56 balls and went on to describe the pitch as one of the most difficult to bat on when on the other end, Suryakumar Yadav played a breezy unbeaten 50 off 33 balls on the same pitch.
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Rahul’s performance this year in T20Is has been mixed. He looked to be struggling to score in the Asia Cup. Though he may have got 36 in 39 balls against Hong Kong and 28 in 20 balls against Pakistan in Dubai, the manner in which he scored them, taking time to settle down and then scoring made it look painful.
Otherwise, he is a delight to watch when going. That Rahul was coming back from a surgery for sports hernia and was taking time to adjust in his return to the Indian team was not all that easy, especially when he had to buy in to the style of cricket that the Indian team has adapted under the new captain Rohit Sharma and coach Rahul Dravid since the early exit from the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in the UAE in October-November 2021.
The pressure is on Rahul to score big against South Africa on Sunday at the 60,000-capacity Perth Stadium, which has become the venue for international matches in Perth since 2018 while the historic WACA ground has gone for redevelopment to be converted into a boutique stadium with a 10,000 capacity.
Rahul has had a mixed run in T20Is since his return from surgery in the Asia Cup in August-September. When he flops, he continuously goes through a series of lean scores whereas when he scores runs, he struggles to score and often goes at a pace that is not beneficial for T20. After the Indian team arrived in Perth for its preparations before the World Cup, getting adjusted to the conditions, Rahul promised to be one of those who would set the stage on fire.
He notched up 57 in 33 balls at 172.72 against Australia in the first warm-up match in Brisbane after straightaway getting into the groove against a select Western Australia XI that included discarded Australia international pacers Andrew Tye and Jason Behrendorff, scoring 74 off 55 balls against them.
However, his inability to touch double digits so far in the Super 12 stage has raised question marks about his extended stay in the playing XI. Calls of Rishabh Pant to be played as an opener in Rahul’s place has become louder not only because of Rahul’s dip in form this World Cup but also for the fact that it gives the Indian team the option of having a left-handed batsman in the top-order, which would otherwise be seen in the form of Axar Patel at No. 7. That Patel was sent at No. 5 so as to have a left-hander in the top half after India lost three quick wickets against Pakistan last Sunday showed the desperate need for a batsman of this ilk at the top-order.
But the very fact that Rahul is India’s vice-captain and hence cannot be dropped from the 11 gives him the cushion. But it is for his own benefit and for the benefit of the Indian team that he gets into the run-scoring act in this World Cup soon. Also, the fact is that Rahul cannot be dropped on the basis of just two single-digit scores in this tournament. It is a phase that one may be going through.
The Indian team management is, however, happy with Rahul and backed him to score big sooner. The team batting coach Vikram Rathour said on the match eve that the Indian team management was not thinking along the lines of giving Rahul a rest and giving Pant a go in this World Cup, sending him out to open with the skipper Rohit Sharma.
Rathour said: “We are not really thinking that (bringing in Pant at the top of the order). I don’t think two games are a good enough sample size anyways (to judge that Rahul is not in form). He’s been batting really well and has batted really well in the practice games also. So we’re not looking at any such thing like bringing Pant in at the top of the order at the moment.”
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Rathour also clarified that the role of the aggressor in the Rahul-Rohit opening combination is not defined or restricted to just one batsmen. Often in recent times, we have seen Rahul taking his time to settle down with the pressure building on Rohit, who has to play his shots and in doing so gets out to catches in the outfield.
Rathour explained: “They have their own ways of constituting their innings. They have had good partnerships where both see their forms on the given day and have an understanding as to how to play with each other. Both of them do that really well. The day Rahul is in good form and is hitting the ball well, he also becomes an aggressor. There is no such thing as one being the aggressor and the other not. As a batting unit, we are looking to score as many runs as we can and whoever wants to do that, will try and do that.”
It may be recalled that Rahul, in the ICC T20 World Cups, and he has played in 2021 and this year, has three fifties in seven innings, his fifties being 69, 50 and 54 not out against Afghanistan, Scotland and Namibia in 2021. Against the stronger bowling attack of Pakistan and New Zealand, he has come a cropper.
Rahul will do well to play his natural game, not go into a cocoon. When he unleashes his wide range of shots, there is no better sight to watch than that. He should not worry about his place in the side. And, sooner he scores big, better for him and the team. He would hope that the big scores come from his bat from Sunday against South Africa.
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