A new challenge awaits KL Rahul as he joins the Indian team after a long break owing to injury. He will be needed to straight away adjust to the new aggressive approach that captain Rohit Sharma wants his team to play. The team goal, however, is against his own method which has brought him unprecedented success in the format in the Indian Premier League where he takes time to settle and then explodes.
Rahul’s natural strength has been building his innings and then gathering pace. An example of it was seen in his last T20 innings, in the Eliminator game, for Lucknow Super Giants against Royal Challengers Bangalore, at the Eden Gardens in May. He was LSG’s top-scorer with 79 off 58 balls but his strike rate came under the scanner. His first 42 balls saw him score a mere 48 runs. In a steep run-chase of 208, he was slow off the blocks and LSG fell short in the end, finishing the 20 overs on 193 for six. His acceleration arrived too late. But, his method has ensured his consistency. The India star has finished with more than 550 runs in four successive IPL seasons with averages of 51.3 (2022), 62.6 (2021), 55.8 (2020), and 53.9 (2019). His overall strike rates are decent as well as he covers up ground with big hitting as he goes along in his innings. Apart from 2020 when his strike rate was 129.3, he has scored his runs at 135 plus.
But, it’s all about the team’s game plan. The players have to adapt. Lately,
The message is clear: As the captain-in-waiting makes a return for the Asia Cup, he also will need to switch to an all-out attack mode.
Speaking on Star Sports show ‘Follow the Blues’, India skipper Rohit Sharma said: “We’ve made it very clear after the T20 World Cup in Dubai, where we didn’t qualify for the finals — that we felt there needed to be a change in our attitude and approach in how we play our game.”
“If the message is clear from the captain and the coach about where the team is trying to head, then the individuals will definitely try to do that. For that to happen they need freedom and clarity and that’s what we are trying to do. We are trying to give them as much freedom as possible.”
While the spotlight has been on Virat Kohli, the team’s think-tank will be backing Rahul to adapt to start fast and deliver.
Even Sharma and Virat Kohli have followed Rahul’s template in their T20 careers so far, of getting in and consolidating. But, they two have been batting differently now. In his last T20 innings, against England, before taking a break, Kohli threw caution to the winds from the first ball. He smashed 11 runs off six balls and even though he was looking so good, he fell trying to play another risky, uppish shot to be caught at covers. Captain Sharma has been doing the same.
Keep looking for runs is the new mantra. Instead of waiting for the right deliveries, the pressure is on to make room and manufacture shots. It has become a game for the power-hitters and the 360-degree batters. Suryakumar Yadav is thriving in it and has played a couple of impressive knocks during the West Indies series and against England before that.
Rahul’s advantage is that like Yadav, he has all the shots. He has a terrific game in the ‘V’ and he can also target a bowler behind the wickets.
It will be interesting to see which number Rahul is asked to bat in the new set-up. In the first few comeback games, he should be walking out to open with Sharma. But to keep that slot for the T20 World Cup in Australia, a lot will depend on his approach in the powerplays. The strike rate with which he bats in the IPL in the powerplay is unlikely to get him the opening slot.
With his risk-free approach, in IPL 2022 his strike rate in powerplay was below 100.
But now, for the Indian team, it is not about the number of balls you play. The brief is about making the maximum of the number of balls you play. Rahul, however, is a versatile batter who can bat anywhere from No 1 to No 5. If batting in the powerplay is an issue, his big-hitting in the middle-order can be an asset.
He had first made his mark in T20 cricket in the IPL for RCB with some whirlwind innings as an opener as well as in the middle at No 4 to finish with a strike rate of 146.49 (397 runs). Once again Rahul will need to bat like the explosive player of 2016.