KL Rahul made his Test debut in 2014 as a technically correct batsman straight out of the Rahul Dravid school of batting in Karnataka and it wasn’t until Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan decided to skip the series against Zimbabwe in June 2016 that the right-hander eventually got a go in the shorter formats too.
Rahul getting his Test debut before his debut in limited-overs cricket now seems odd simply because of how assured and vital he seems to be to India’s fortunes in the ODI and T20 cricket now.
He started off his ODI career with a century (100 off 115 balls) and immediately established himself as one of the players to keep an eye for. Most batsmen tend to favour either the off-side or the leg-side but Rahul is just as comfortable playing on either side and can throw in a dash of the unorthodox when the mood takes him. It makes bowling to him very difficult.
Test cricket hasn’t quite been as easy for him. He has shown glimpses of his talent, scraped the bottom and then found his way back into the team. Skipper Kohli believes in him but Rahul hasn’t yet found his template, as he has in ODIs and T20Is, in Tests.
Indeed, the numbers in the table below show how Rahul is still looking for his best form in Test cricket but has already got off the blocks in the shorter formats. An average of 34.58 just won’t cut it in Test cricket but his statistics in ODIs and T20Is are already impressive and getting better by the day.
KL Rahul career numbers
Of late, Rahul has found himself in the middle of a purple patch in the shorter formats. The 27-year-old has always been a confidence player and right now, his run-scoring streak is flowing from one format to the other.
Rahul’s series topping aggregate of 224 runs against New Zealand in the five T20Is lifted him four places to a career best-equaling second place in the ICC rankings while Rohit Sharma (up three places to 10th), Shreyas Iyer (up 63 places to 55th) and Manish Pandey (up 12 places to 58th) were the other Indian batsmen to advance.
There are now three Indians among the top 10 batsmen, as captain Virat Kohli has retained his ninth position with 105 runs from four matches.
Particularly impressive, given how the T20 format works, is Rahul’s strike-rate. When a batsman is striking it at 146.10, the longer he stays at the wicket... the closer his side will get to victory.
Except for Hardik Pandya, who has an SR of 147.61, no other top Indian batsman has a strike-rate as high as that of Rahul. But Pandya’s average in T20Is is just 16.31.
|Upto Nov 2019||28||899||110*||42.80||2|
|After Nov 2019||14||562||91||51.09||0|
Now, that strike-rate goes even higher in ‘away’ chases. When Rahul has a goal in sight, he morphs into an even more dangerous batsman. In Test cricket, he sometimes seems to get confused about which approach to take but in T20s, as we have seen during his batting in the Indian Premier League too, there are no such doubts.
Given that the men’s T20 World Cup will be held later this year in Australia, Rahul’s away record becomes very important too.
Rahul in 'away' T20I chases
Changes have been afoot for Rahul’s career with Kohli deciding to hand the wicket-keeping duties to him ahead of the struggling Rishabh Pant.
The 27-year-old is clearly a batsman-keeper as against being a keeper-batsman but he has shown skill and smarts behind the wicket to lend vital balance to the squad.
With the injured Hardik Pandya missing in action, India often looked like they were going into games either a batsman or a bowler short. But for now, Rahul seems to plug that gap pretty well.
The confidence gained by scoring runs in T20Is is now flowing into his ODI game as well. He has also shown that he is not a one-dimensional batsman by playing second fiddle to the other batsman when the occasion demands.
|Upto Dec 2019||23||704||111||39.11||2|
|After Dec 2019||6||331||102||55.16||1|
It’s still early days but if Rahul can continue his recent run of form, it might not be wrong to say that he will be just as vital to India’s T20 World Cup campaign as Sharma and Kohli. In fact, given his wicket-keeping duties, perhaps even more than them.
Still, the challenge for Rahul from this point on will be to find consistency; consistency that will give him the confidence to take on the best in the world on his own terms. He’s got his foot in the door but now he needs to throw it wide open.