Team India’s juggernaut continued to roll unabated at the 2023 ODI World Cup, sealing a place in the summit clash after a 70-run win over New Zealand in Mumbai.
While the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, along with the fast-bowling triumvirate, will receive the bulk of the plaudits for the team’s performance this tournament, the rest have done their job impeccably, contributing to the team’s total domination.
One of these silent crusaders has been KL Rahul, who has donned multiple hats for the team, discharging his duties admirably.
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A stone-cold demeanour on the field and a steely resolve while helming the willow has been a constant characteristic during his near-flawless performances in the World Cup so far.
In its first match of the ongoing tournament, in Chennai, India bowled Australia out for 199 to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
However, Rahul found himself at the crease in the third over of the chase as India stumbled to 2 for 3, bringing back ghosts of the World Cup past.
Kohli and Rahul then stitched a 165-run partnership from a spot of bother, characterised by some expert rotation of strike, taking India to its first win of the tournament.
Rahul’s exasperation after being guilty of hitting the ball too well, past the boundary ropes, when he was on 91 not out with India needing five to win, was a highlight of the game.
The 31-year-old has added 289 further runs since then, switching gears as per the demands of the situation he is walking into. He managed to get the hundred as well, a record 63-ball one at that, in the final league game against the Netherlands.
In honesty, the credentials of Rahul the middle-order batter were not in much doubt before the tournament. He has been India’s best middle-order batter over the last couple of years.
He has scored more than 1000 runs in positions four and five in the batting order for India, with an average over fifty and a strike-rate over 90.
The uncertainty was in his wicket-keeping, a facet for which he has faced critique before, especially during his IPL stint with the Punjab Kings.
The injury to Rishabh Pant and the lack of form of the other contenders left India in a conundrum in filling the spot behind the wickets, a situation similar to the early 2000s.
A certain Rahul Dravid had put his hand up then, taking up the mantle in the 2003 World Cup too. Now, his namesake has done the same, volunteering to take up a spot that had been so secure in Indian cricket for the best part of two decades.
Rahul has played a part in 16 dismissals for India in this World Cup, at a rate of 1.6 dismissals per match. He is behind only South Africa’s Quinton De Kock and the Netherlands’ Scott Edwards in the second metric.
In the semifinal against New Zealand, Rahul snapped up four catches, including the crucial scalp of Rachin Ravindra, the Kiwis’ top scorer this tournament.
The transformation of ODI cricket has seen a rise in the responsibilities of a wicketkeeper. The man behind the stumps is now entrusted with the added role of being a judge of DRS calls the fielding team has to make.
Rahul has played this role to near-perfection, bringing a calm head whenever the captain has needed his input through the tournament. Rahul has stood his ground against the most vociferous of appeals from the bowlers, a trait other keepers often struggle with.
At the same time, he has done well at the other end of the spectrum as well. Sri Lanka’s Dushmantha Chameera gloved one down leg side during the league stage contest at the Wankhede. There was no appeal from any of the close-in fielders but Rahul convinced the captain to go for a review that proved successful.
Rahul might not be at the top of the fantasy points tables of the World Cup or even the ever-evolving impact points charts, but there is no denying his pivotal contribution to the team’s success.
Amidst the multitude of characters he plays for the team, only one remains, rolling his arm over. The dearth of part-timer bowlers might even force him to do it but hopefully, it doesn’t come to that.