An improved KL Rahul no longer to be considered just a Test specialist

Sankha Ghosh / 13 May 2016
KL Rahul has been a revelation this IPL.

Anyone who has been tracking the last few years of the Ranji Trophy knows that KL Rahul is a genuine technically sound batsman. We also had an opportunity to witness a glimpse of his abilities when he managed to shrug off a horrible start to his Test career, in Melbourne back in December 2014, to hit a composed innings of 110 in Sydney in the next match. A few months later, in August 2015, it was his fourth Test and Rahul scored 108 in Colombo. However, the Karnataka youngster failed in his next Test and has been out of the team since then, though it was due to the fact that first-choice openers M Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan were fit and firing.

Rahul, who became a stalwart for Karnataka in their rise to dizzying heights through the domestic circuit, is merely the kind of player you would associate with the shortest version of cricket. In terms of IPL over the years, Rahul has been largely seen as a peripheral act. But he was never counted upon to do too much or display some extraordinary heroics.

Last season at Sunrisers Hyderabad, among the 14 games his team played he featured in 9 matches, showed some sense of responsibility down the middle overs and scored some vital runs. But those were not enough to stay in memory. As a matter of fact, in 39 T20 matches overall before the start of this season’s IPL, Rahul just had 653 runs.

There were no such highly classified secrets hidden away, when Royal Challengers Bangalore bought Rahul for the 2016 season from Hyderabad, they would have bargained for not much more than what he had done the previous season. And also, while Kedar Jadhav was seen as the first-choice wicketkeeper-batsman, the competition started with Rahul warming the bench for the opening two games.

But things started to change due to an update from Jamaica, when Chris Gayle’s partner delivered the couple’s first baby and it meant Gayle had to rush back home. A major gap at the top then – so Jadhav out, Rahul in as wicketkeeper-batsman. This plan changes all around, in fact.

And since then, if you ignore his fluffed chances behind the stumps hurting Bangalore, he is enjoying an outstanding form in front of the stumps. And if you have the guts you can even say, in terms of consistency he is a bit ahead of Virat Kohli. One can definitely argue. Kohli has notched two hundreds in the eight matches Rahul has played and also has a 33, an 80, and a 52. But the RCB skipper has also had three failures.

Meanwhile, Rahul got off a bit slowly with 23 against Mumbai Indians and 7 against Rising Pune Supergiants, but since then has recorded 51 not out, 51, 52, 38, 42 and 68 not out, the last one coming against Mumbai Indians in Bangalore in a losing cause on Wednesday. Rahul’s strike rate is 143.10 compared to Kohli’s 141.29, and he is second only to Kohli in the averages for Bangalore – 55.33 to 71.00.

Anyway, better than Kohli or not is obviously a pointless debate for now. After all, we are trying to compare KL Rahul with a giant figure of this modern era. The main point is as simple as that, Rahul has delivered, and delivered really above expectations, and that in a format not exactly suited for him. In a team bolstered with Kohli, AB de Villiers, Gayle and Shane Watson, he has stood out as an unlikely hero whenever the team needed him. If captain Kohli or Bangalore now claim that they had expected exactly this performance from Rahul when they picked him, it would be tough to take without a pinch of salt.

Just consider the circumstances. After moving into the top order to open the innings with Kohli when Gayle flew away and benched once, Rahul had to drop down to No. 4 against Mumbai Indians, with de Villiers at No. 3.

But, it seemed opening – something his more celebrated namesake and idol Rahul Dravid did for years for almost all the teams he ever played for – as he came to bat in the fourth over with Kohli and Gayle back to pavilion and the scoreboard reading 17 for 2.

His partner was de Villiers, uncharacteristically dull on that night, and it was left all to Rahul to up the scoring rate, which he did well by hammering Jasprit Bumrah in the ninth over for a six and a four. Overall, in his unbeaten 68 in 53 balls, he smashed three fours and four sixes, the last of those was a magnificent flick-sweep – or you can say it a sweep-flick, or what we call a ‘whip’ as there is no formal word to describe the shot – towards deep square-leg of a Mitchell McClenaghan yorker.

But it didn’t matter at the end of the end, as Bangalore lost the match with a fair bit to spare, but what Rahul did is playing his part in giving Bangalore a chance.

All along, despite his wicketkeeping has been criticised on several occasions, Kohli semi-jokingly claimed the other day that the only alternative they had, if the team balance had to be maintained, was to force de Villiers to keep wickets.

However, Rahul had a better night behind the stamps on Wednesday than when Andre Russell profited from his lapses and won Kolkata Knight Riders the match on May 2.

Not sure about RCB’s bowling, but KL Rahul’s batting is certainly going ‘better and better with each game’. Bangalore’s prospects of reaching the playoffs look rather iffy at this moment, but Rahul, with his long hair and beard adding to the changed persona, has done his bit with the bat this season to be considered as more than just a Test player. His wicketkeeping can improve with some hard work, but before IPL 2017, Rahul has to be rated higher than he has been till now. After all, these performances are becoming more and more memorable.