The resurgence of KL Rahul and how the Indian has found his form
If you ask KL Rahul as to whether anything has changed between the two IPL editions in 2018 and 2019, he would probably go into a mode of introspection.
The last season was outstanding on a personal level for the Karnataka opener, and saw him finishing with 659 runs for the Kings XI Punjab, the third highest in the tournament.
It effectively guaranteed him a slot in the Indian limited-overs setup, but things took a rather unfortunate twist towards the fag end of the year, which led to the enterprising batsman temporarily serving a suspension from all things cricket.
Such situations might jeopardise even the calmest of men; but thankfully the opening batsman took it in his stride and marched on ever so carefully, as he listened to the likes of Rahul Dravid and took in valuable advice.
As a result, what we got back was not the KL Rahul who was struggling to time the ball and wasting his wicket.
Instead, he has effortlessly metamorphosed into an invigorated individual who is totally focused on devoting his entire time to cricket and spending his energies on the upcoming IPL.
Of course, he needs to also ensure that he would be among the fifteen men chosen to proudly represent the nation in the mega carnival, that is the World Cup.
Critics were baying for his blood after the unpleasant controversy, and that might have reflected in the deliberate change in attitude he displayed as the IPL 2019 began.
The difference in Rahul between the two seasons was rather glaringly obvious in his batting this time around. IPL 2018 witnessed a dasher oozing confidence, and that could be seen in the statistics; Rahul’s runs came at a strike-rate close to 160.
He even smashed the fastest ever IPL fifty last season, off a mere 14 balls. He established himself as a power-hitter who could take any bowling attack to the cleaners.
Rahul of IPL 2019, on the other hand, is perhaps a ‘welcome’ aberration from his dare-to-say callous old self.
He now appears grounded and is channeling his emotions and his outstanding innate talent perfectly well in tandem.
The Indian batsman has shown consistency this season too, scoring 217 runs from six innings, albeit at a lower strike rate.
He has not blitzed the opposition apart by any stretch of imagination, hitting just four sixes and 19 fours in the six games so far.
But what is strikingly impressive though, is that Rahul has brought up these changes by least compromising on success.
Only the method has changed; and maybe some finishing touches to the technique that had been disappointingly letting him down not too far ago.
In the IPL this season, all three of his fifties have come in chases. Two of those – against Mumbai Indians and now against Sunrisers Hyderabad – were in victories.
And it is definitely not coincidental that Rahul carried the bat on both occasions. The other half-century should have resulted in a Punjab win too.
But Rahul and Sarfaraz Khan bizarrely miscalculated a chase big time against the Chennai Super Kings as the duo forgot to put their feet on the gas during the chase.
Rahul has happily taken up the mantle of being an anchor vis-a-vis the dasher he was last year, with the other Kings XI Punjab batsmen taking turns and attacking around him. That was what unfurled against Hyderabad on Monday.
The Ravichandran Ashwin-led outfit rode home safely on Rahul’s innings as the Karnataka man opted to bat deep, keeping the scoreboard ticking and placing the ball with surgical precision into empty pockets of space.
More than half (37) of his 71 runs came through singles and doubles, and that is what now sets KL Rahul apart in this time of brutal hitting.
The chase should have been completed easily but a flurry of late wickets took it too close. Unlike last time though, Rahul was there to see them home.
Come April 15, the national selectors would be convening a meeting in Mumbai to declare Team India’s World Cup squad.
And KL Rahul, the enterprising and talented Indian batsman, frankly finds himself quite close to being on that all-important flight to England.