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The spotlight is on an off-colour Rahul with India trailing 1-2 in the five-match series and a must-win fourth game here on Thursday. More so because, in their eagerness to try new stuff ahead of the T20 World Cup in India in October-November, the team has discovered an attacking left-handed opening choice in Ishan Kishan, while another established T20 performer, Suryakumar Yadav (who was dropped after struggling to bat on debut), awaits his chance.
KL Rahul may have thought that way on Tuesday night. One can't help but be impressed when a batsman is pounded by pace in cricket. As the batsman makes his move, the bowler rushes in and unleashes a lightning-quick delivery. Because of the accelerated pace, the ball will also reach the bat until it can come down to defend, smashing into the stumps. It has the ability to make the batsman powerless.
The India opener was a little slow to respond to Mark Wood's 146kph rocket, and was bowled for zero runs. However, seeing the dismissal in isolation is incorrect. Here was India's best T20I opener since the start of the year, out for his third duck in four games, dating back to the third T20I against Australia in Sydney on December 8. Rahul stuck in the squad bio-bubble for three months without playing before being called into the eleven for this T20I series. Due to rust or poor technique, Rahul played on a wide delivery from Jofra Archer in the first game and then edged behind a slightly swinging Sam Curran delivery in the second game. A total of one run was scored during the 14-ball stay.
The figures show why Rahul is so critical. Only Virat Kohli (911) has scored more runs for India since the start of the year, and Rahul's average (38.05) is the best among Indian players with at least 12 games after Kohli (60.73). When the England series started, Rahul had an average of 44.70 and a strike rate of 141.52. He has toned down his batting intensity in the last three IPLs as his role at the Kings XI Punjab franchise grew after he became captain. Although his average increased (from 54.91 in 2018 to 55.83 in 2020), his strike rate decreased (158.41 in 2018 to 129.34 in 2020).
Rahul, on the other hand, has had consistent runs during his seven-year India career, interspersed with lean patches, injuries, and even suspension due to off-field problems. India's results have reflected his consistency, especially in limited-overs formats. He will enter the acceleration mode elegantly as a batsman with a classical technique who aspires to play 100 Tests (the 28-year-old has played 36 Tests). He's developed into Rohit Sharma's ideal ally at the top.
During the series, Rahul, India's next big thing, injured his shoulder and was ruled out of the 2017 IPL. Later that year, he returned to the Tests, but his results were never the same. Since then, he has only scored one Test century and is increasingly restricted to limited-overs formats. It all started in 2014, during his first Test series in Australia, when he batted for nearly six hours in Sydney to score his first century. He scored three Test centuries abroad between then and the 2016 West Indies tour. Rahul also made his ODI debut that year, becoming the third Indian to score a century in all three formats. He improved his portfolio with five consecutive Test half-centuries against visiting Australia.
In 14 games during the 2018 Indian Premier League, he scored 659 runs. Both were suspended in early 2019 after Hardik Pandya made a derogatory remark on a TV talk show. He scored 593 runs in 14 games in the 2019 IPL, and 670 runs in the 2020 IPL. His T20I scores had also improved prior to this new downturn.
Virat Kohli is confident about his game as of now, referring to his dismissal, for him and his team, he referred to Rahul as been a champion player compare to anyone in world cricket in T20s, he is still their main batters together with Rohit as the top of the order. Vikram Rathour, India's batting coach, is equally confident too for Rahul.