KL Rahul’s road to redemption and a fresh start in national colours
While the Ravichandran Ashwin-led Mohali may have exited the Indian T20 League without playoff action, KL Rahul withstood the test of time and rediscovered his mojo as one of the best opening batsmen in the shortest format of the game. As the World Cup draws closer, fans are hoping Rahul carries his resurgent form into cricket’s grandest tournament.
Ever since his debut in the Indian T20 League in 2013, Rahul enjoyed his best-ever campaign in the competition last year, notching up 659 runs at a strike rate of 158.41. With 1977 runs at an average of 42.06, the 27-year-old batsman has shown he can be one of the most destructive openers on his day, despite the concerns of inconsistency continuing to follow him in the longer formats of the game.
Soon after the 2018 Indian T20 League, Rahul resumed national duties and featured for the ‘Men in Blue’ in the series against England, Australia and West Indies, besides being part of India’s triumphant Asia Cup team. His performances, though, have been a mixed affair as he amassed just 95 runs in ODIs, 353 runs in Tests and 379 runs in T20Is during the period between June 2018 and February 2019.
While he was a constant target of criticism for his below-par display in the ODI series in England, Rahul found support in captain Virat Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri. They reiterated the fact that it is through a period of adversity that a player must show sheer grit and determination and rise up to be the best of himself. Yet, trouble continued to follow as he and Hardik Pandya were immediately reprimanded for their inappropriate comments on the TV show ‘Koffee With Karan’ during the tour of Australia and handed suspensions from the team until further notice.
However, in a span of days, after they offered apologies for their comment, Pandya and Rahul had their bans upheld. Thus, he could either play domestic cricket or link up with the India-A team. During India-A’s unofficial Tests against England Lions, the out-of-favor opener recorded scores of 89 and 81 to serve a timely reminder to his onlookers and critics that he can still deliver.
With the Indian T20 League 2019 a last resort to secure a place in India’s World Cup squad, Rahul began his second campaign as a part of Mohali’s unit with successive single-digit scores against Rajasthan and Kolkata, before scoring his first half-century against Mumbai. Thereafter, he went on to score five fifties and an unbeaten ton. Currently, he sits second on the competition’s leading run-getter charts with a tally of 593 runs at an average of 53.90.
Apart from his individual exploits, Rahul struck a formidable partnership with the ‘Universe Boss’ Chris Gayle and together stitched two 100-plus run stands in the league games against Mumbai (116) and Chennai (108). Looking at their performance in this edition, the 27-year-old has clearly upstaged the Jamaican superstar.
Keeping a close eye on his performances since the suspensions were revoked, the BCCI named Rahul in India’s 15-man squad for the 2019 ICC World Cup in England. While he might be taken in as a back-up opener to Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, the management might slot him into the number 4 position, if all-rounder Vijay Shankar underperforms.
His recent blistering form bodes well for the World Cup and the Karnataka player could cap off a sensational year of drama on and off the field with a well-deserved return to the English pitch, where he recorded his last international Test and T20I centuries.
Words: William Paul
Images: Kings XI Punjab / PA