KL Rahul is back! After he gave a glimpse of his batting prowess with an unbeaten 62 off just 43 deliveries in the series opener in Pune, the stylish right-handed batsman unleashed his genius with a magnificent hundred in the second match of the series at the same venue on Friday. Rahul’s brilliant 108 off just 114 deliveries took India to a massive 336 for 6 in their allotted 50 overs and put them in the driver’s seat to seal the three-match series. It has been a massive turn in fortunes for Rahul who could not lay bat to ball in the recently concluded T20I series against the same opposition.
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KL Rahul had a lower aggregate than Jofra Archer in the T20I series - that is how poor he was with the bat. He scored a mere 15 runs in 4 innings with three binary-digit performances – 0, 0 and 1. Rahul had registered three ducks in his last five T20I appearances for India and was finally dropped from the XI for the series decider. He looked tentative and indecisive - not the run-machine that he was for India in the last couple of years in the format. He was a patch of the batsman who had the highest aggregate in the IPL in the last three years. His confidence seemed low and morale was down.
But as the old adage goes - Form is Temporary, Class is Permanent!
Rahul came at number 5 in the series opener and gave the innings the necessary impetus with a magnificent unbeaten 62 off 43 deliveries. He smashed 4 fours and as many sixes in the innings. He was not at his best in the initial half of the innings scoring just 16 runs off his first 23 deliveries. Rahul then unleashed his destructive genius and blasted 46 off the next 20 deliveries he faced. This is what makes him such a dangerous batsman in ODI cricket. He takes his time to settle in but can then change gears and be as destructive as any batsman in the world. He has all the shots in the book, the gift of timing and a fantastic hand-eye coordination which makes him a very dangerous batsman in the lower-order.
Rahul started on Friday from where he had left off on Tuesday. The situation was different today. He was promoted to number 4 from his customary number 5 position and went in to bat after India had suffered a couple of massive blows early in their innings. The openers - Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma - had both been dismissed within the first powerplay and the home team needed to resurrect the innings.
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Rahul showed maturity and stabilised the innings with skipper Virat Kohli. The pair put together 121 for the third-wicket - Rahul chipped in with 60 off 71 deliveries matching his captain in run-scoring and strike rate. He then accelerated and scored 48 off the next 43 deliveries he faced in his second successive century-stand of 113 - this time off 80 balls - with the swashbuckling Rishabh Pant. Rahul was the constant in the middle order for India who took them from a precarious start to a position of dominance by the end of his innings. He scored a majestic 108 off just 114 deliveries - a knock that included 7 fours and 2 sixes.
As in the first match of the series, it was the way Rahul paced his innings playing the situation to perfection that was most impressive even today. He scored just 38 runs off the first 55 deliveries he faced with India needing a partnership to rebuild the innings after the two early setbacks. Once he got his eye in with skipper Kohli, Rahul showcased his A-Game taking apart the English bowlers. He scored 70 off the last 59 deliveries he faced in his innings.
Rahul had already made the number 5 position his own in ODI cricket after being pushed down the order. He has an aggregate of 446 runs in 9 innings at an average of 63.71 and strike rate of 117.36 including a hundred and 4 fifties from the position.
Today he showed his prowess as the playmaker from number 4 adding a new leaf to his already impressive credentials in ODI cricket. Rahul has the game and the technique to play a dual role in the middle order for India. He can anchor and play the role of the playmaker and then go ballistic at the death clearing the boundary at will - very few batsmen in international cricket have the talent and pedigree to make this switch.
A change in position and format seems to have changed the fortunes of KL Rahul. India may have unearthed a new middle-order gem in the 50-over format.
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