Let us not belittle KL Rahul’s long-awaited return to form by shrugging, “It was just Bangladesh, that too on a batting pitch in Adelaide.”
It was Bangladesh in a pressure game. It was Bangladesh with a potent bowling attack, led by the in-form Taskin Ahmed. It was Bangladesh with a strong batting attack, as Litton Das showed us.
The semifinals of the ICC T20 World Cup 2022 had seemed a formality for India after they won their first two games, against Pakistan and The Netherlands, with some swag. But then they lost to South Africa.
Suddenly, the pressure to win Wednesday’s battle against Bangladesh increased. So credit to Rahul for emerging through the memes and the questions and the challenges with a strokeful, 32-ball 50. Besides, don’t forget his direct run out of the on-fire Litton Das.
Graeme Swann, the former England spinner, had made portentous comments about Rahul before the game. “He needs to get on the front foot more, hit the ball and really watch the ball hard. You definitely can’t drop him, KL Rahul is a potential superstar in the World Cup final. I’d stick with him as Adelaide’s a beautiful batting wicket, so make hay,” he told Star Sports.
That is exactly what Rahul did. The point is, this one knock doesn’t change the fact that he needs to be more consistent.
In his 10 T20I innings prior to Bangladesh, Rahul had scores of 9, 9, 4, 57, 51*, 1, 10, 55, 62 and 6. Four 50-plus scores in 10 innings isn’t too shabby. But three of those were on Indian soil, while one was in Dubai, indicating that Rahul is not the boss he is in the subcontinent when the team travels to conditions such as Australia.
Still, many expected Rahul to be confident when he flew Down Under, thanks to his impressive performances in the series against Australia and South Africa on home soil. Even in the practice game before the World Cup, against Western Australia, Rahul had his Midas touch with him. He scored 74 off 55 balls.
All that changed when the tournament proper started.
Rahul’s problems seem centred around pace. For example, in 2022, India faced Pakistan thrice. The 30-year-old only scored 32 in three innings and was dismissed twice by pacer Naseem Shah.
In the first three games of the World Cup, Rahul was dismissed for single-digit scores. On all three occasions, the pacers got him.
An opener not scoring runs is a headache for the team. It deteriorates the Powerplay run rate and increases the pressure on the likes of Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav.
The best aspirin for this headache is Rahul himself, as he showed against Bangladesh.
He has had the backing of the coach and captain so far, and will do so even more now.
“I think in Rohit’s and my mind, there’s absolutely no doubt about who’s going to open for us,” Rahul Dravid said on the eve of the game against Bangladesh. “I think he’s a fantastic player and he’s got a proven track record. These things (getting out cheaply) can happen in a T20 game sometimes.”
Rahul’s 50 and his match-turning run-out of Litton Das would have sent his confidence soaring. And if he still wants inspiration, he doesn’t need to look any further than Kohli. In fact, during the preparation for the Bangladesh game, Kohli was seen having a long chat with Rahul.
Kohli faced a nearly three-year century drought and the worst criticism. But he bounced back from it. There’s no reason Rahul can’t replicate the same.
India need to have their openers in form and take advantage of the Powerplays once the semifinal stage begins. It has been a long time since we have seen a classic Rahul inning with the ‘shutting out the noise’ celebration. After Wednesday, the noise has shut down. At least for now.