Tuesday, 28 June, 2022
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KL Rahul returns — from Karan Johar show fiasco to solving India’s World Cup No. 4 crisis

With a good IPL and a century in the warm-up against Bangladesh, K.L. Rahul seems to be the last piece of India’s World Cup jigsaw.

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Bengaluru: When 2019 began, it felt like the walls were closing in on K.L. Rahul. In January, Rahul, along with Hardik Pandya, was recalled from the Indian team playing Twenty20 Internationals in Australia, not for want of runs, not for an on-field loss of composure, but for the role the two played in a television chat show.

Remember, this was a World Cup year, a chance to be a hero and here was Rahul, left feeling like a complete zero, even with slots up for grabs in the One-Day International batting line-up. Fast forward to the end of May, a good Indian Premier League season under the belt, a century in a warm-up match, and Rahul has all but sealed his place in the team in the pivotal No. 4 position.

Virat Kohli, the captain, was quick to step up and express relief that a key problem for the team management was solved. It was literally as though the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle had finally fallen into place.

“The biggest positive to come out of this [warm up versus Bangladesh] game was the way KL batted at four,” Kohli said after the outing in Cardiff. “All the other people know their role pretty well, so it was important that KL gets runs because he is such a sound player. He can get the scoreboard ticking and you saw that — a great example of the skill-set that he has.”

Not lacking in skill

The skill-set is certainly there. Rahul is the kind of batsman who can build an innings, but equally one who can step forward and floor the pedal if that’s what a situation demands. With India stacked in the top three, there will be times when Rahul walks out to the middle from a position of strength, but there could well be others when he has to take a deep breath and switch more to Test-match mode, especially when the conditions favour the swing bowlers.

But while skill is something Rahul has in spades — and you expect that when someone is part of a World Cup squad — he has also been forced to introspect after what happened earlier in the year. This has allowed him to grow as a person and cricketer, though it wasn’t an easy process.

Rahul, who said he was “humbled” by what happened to him, explained what helped him bounce back. “Time out from the game gives a player an opportunity to reflect on himself and his cricket. It wasn’t any different for me,” he said.

“I got some time to spend with friends and family, which was so important because I’ve been on the road for a long time. Given the situation, that’s not why I wanted to get some time off. Anyway, I tried to make the best use of it, I felt like there were a few things with my batting and technique I needed to fix.”


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Dravid’s backing

But it was not friends and family alone who helped right the ship. Rahul was fortunate to have some time with the India ‘A’ set up, where Rahul Dravid provided a comforting arm around the shoulder at a time of need. Dravid initially stepped up to defend Rahul.

“It is not that players did not make mistakes in the past. It is not that mistakes will not be made in the future despite our best efforts to educate the youth. But let us not overreact please,” Dravid had said. “I have coached both of them [Rahul and Pandya] at various levels. I somehow just don’t feel that interview truly reflected the players. Hopefully, they will come back better and stronger from this.”

Dravid, never one to go overboard, went the extra mile on this occasion. “I will say honestly, I do believe that both of them have not yet achieved their obvious potential, and maybe this might be the catalyst that would lead them to reflect and help them reach the level and potential they can achieve in all forms of the game. If they can do that, they can certainly be role models.”

Taking responsibility

At the moment, the furthest thing from Rahul’s mind is being a role model. For the moment, his focus is solely on contributing to the team in a manner that ensures him an extended run in the No. 4 position.

“It is a team game and you need to be flexible and be ready to bat wherever, or as a player you need to be ready to take up whatever role is given to you,” Rahul said after scoring his century. “Every batsman who has played at this level knows how to handle pressure and knows how to handle the roles and responsibilities given to him.”

There is responsibility to take up, no doubt, not least because this is a somewhat unexpected second lease of life in international cricket for Rahul. World Cups come around once in four years, and the opportunity to do something special is not one afforded to all. For Rahul, the stars have aligned at just the right time, but it’s still up to him to shine.


Also read: Ashwin ‘Mankading’ Buttler: What comes first – rules or the spirit of cricket?


 

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