As KL Rahul's career progressed and he played in unfamiliar conditions, his batting form dropped and suddenly there was a whole list of failures for fans and pundits to analyse
Not long ago, KL Rahul was the target of trolls for his failure on the field and behaviour off it. But in a matter of two T20I matches, Indian cricket fans are once again in awe of his batting. They are talking about his style, his class and his sixes.
Well, that's Rahul's international career (so far) in nutshell for you!
When Rahul made his debut for India after scoring truckloads of runs at the domestic level, there was a very strong belief among fans and pundits that he will soon become one of India's mainstays in the batting department, across all three formats of the game. Rahul, to his credit, started off really well, but as his career progressed and he played in unfamiliar conditions, his batting form dropped and suddenly there was a whole list of failures for fans and pundits to analyse.
In the Test series against England and Australia, Rahul fell way short of expectations and his batting, mainly shot-selection, went from bad to worse. Barring the hundred he scored in the last Test of the series against England, Rahul's bat remained cold in both England and Australia.
To make things worse, after the end of the Test series in Australia, Rahul along with Hardik Pandya, were suspended by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for their "bad" remarks on a popular talk show.
Time spent with Rahul Dravid helped him
After serving the period of suspension, Rahul was picked to the India A team for the series against England Lions. In the India A camp, he spent time with coach Rahul Dravid, who helped him a lot in understanding his game better and play more freely.
"Fortunately, I got to play some India A games where the pressure is a little less intense. It helped me focus on my skill and technique. I spent a lot of time with Rahul Dravid, working on my game and chatting about cricket. He helped me a lot in the games I played," Rahul revealed.
In the seven innings across formats before his India A sojourn, Rahul scratched his way to scoring just 122 uneasy runs. But in the seven after that, including his 26-ball 47 in the second T20I of the recently concluded series against Australia, Rahul scored 322 runs with three half-centuries.
Hot and cold
When Rahul bats the way he batted in the T20Is series against Australia, he looks as elegant as Rohit Sharma and as destructive as Virender Sehwag. He destroys bowling attacks at his will and plays some of the most destructive yet beautiful strokes. He makes batting look easy and bowlers look ordinary.
But when he struggles, he can look really bad too. He plays irresponsible strokes, chases deliveries outside the off stump and keeps finding ways to get himself out. He becomes like that bright boy who keeps doing well throughout the year but disappoints himself and all others in final exams.
What's next for Rahul?
Virat Kohli, the team management and national selectors know about Rahul's talent and capabilities and this is the reason they have been backing him and giving him more and more opportunities to settle down.
But with too many young players pushing each other for a spot in the national team across all three formats, Rahul will have to make the most of every opportunity that comes his way now. The all-important World Cup is just around the corner and it is almost certain that unless there is an injury, Rahul will not feature in the playing eleven. India tried to experiment with the No 4 position, but it didn't work, and Ambati Rayudu, who has been in and around the Indian squad for a long time, made the most of the chances he got and it is highly likely that he will bat at No 4 in the World Cup.
However, having said this, Rahul can be picked in the 15-member squad which will travel to England for the World Cup because he offers a variety of options in the batting order. Rahul, in case of an injury to openers, can be a good replacement and he can also bat in the middle order.
What Rahul needs to do from here?
Rahul needs to learn the art of constructing an innings from his Kings XI Punjab opening partner Chris Gayle. Gayle is one of the most destructive batsmen in cricket history, but in the second half of his career, Gayle made a change in his approach and started taking his time before getting into the hitting zone. Similarly, Rahul also needs to take his time at the start of the innings and avoid playing too many rash shots.
Rahul needs to control his instincts and give respect to bowlers in the initial stage of his innings. There is no big flaw in his technique and the biggest reason for his lack of performance has been poor shot-selection. In the upcoming season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Rahul must spend a lot of time with Gayle and learn the art of controlling the rush of blood at the start of the innings.
There is no doubt that Rahul is a very talented and skilful batsman, but having played 74 international matches for India (34 Tests, 13 ODIs and 27 T20Is), it's time for him to finally add consistency and reliability to his game.
Last Updated 2, Mar 2019, 4:45 PM IST