KL Rahul a winner, as keeper
After the final ODI here on Sunday, Virat Kohli declared Rahul as first-choice in limited-overs formats because the team is happy with the balance he lends to the team.Updated: Jan 21, 2020 11:45 IST
How quickly can equations change in the world of sport! The latest example came in India’s one-day series win over Australia, where KL Rahul emerged a serious contender to the batsman-‘keeper slot in white-ball teams. After displaying fine form with bat and keeping gloves, he is now frontrunner for that role in the October World Twenty20 in Australia. It though puts a question mark over the future of Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
After the final ODI here on Sunday, Virat Kohli declared Rahul as first-choice in limited-overs formats because the team is happy with the balance he lends to the team.
“Look, we have what we have in the team. Rahul really brings in a good balance, to keep that well and bat that well in that position. It’s just that he’s come into that slot and has done well. We’ll have to persist with that a little bit and see where that takes us, and not necessarily be confused about the other options (Pant, Dhoni and Samson) that we have,” the India skipper said.
Clarity on spots
One reason for India’s semi-final exit at last year’s World Cup was a lack of solidity in the middle-order. They over-experimented and finally went to the World Cup without an established No. 4. Lessons learnt, the team management is eager to have clarity over spots early in their preparation for the next World Cup.
“Lack of clarity in terms of positions in the past has really hurt us. Now that we understand that this team is right, we’re going to go ahead with that for a while and figure out whether this is the right team or not. We can’t chop and change immediately and create confusion within the group. We’re playing well, an unchanged team, and we did the job again. Two wins back to back... I don’t see any reason why we should change this balance as it has done well; we’re going to continue with this for a while,” said Kohli.
It is a formula Sourav Ganguly as skipper used successfully at the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, when he got Rahul Dravid to double up as keeper in the run to the final. Dravid had kept in a few ODIs starting with a game in the 1999 World Cup, but did the job regularly under Ganguly—most of his 73 games as ‘keeper coming between 2001 and 2004.
Kohli feels India can revisit that plan if Rahul continues to deliver as batsman and keeper. “It definitely allows us to play an extra batsman, which strengthens our batting massively,” he said. “If you look at the 2003 World Cup where Rahul bhai kept, the balance became different because you could play an extra batter and guys at the top could really play positive cricket.
“Rahul is very open to playing anywhere because he is a proper batsman and does good in any format and any position. He won’t go slam-bang from ball one but can do what he did in Rajkot (52-ball 80 at No. 5, three catches) just playing good cricketing shots. A solid game plan and understanding of his game is helping. He has reflected on what he needs to do in the last five-six months and he has come a long way.” Rahul was also sharp with DRS calls in the series, an area India need to improve.
Pant played as keeper-batsman in the first ODI in Mumbai but suffered concussion after a blow to his helmet while batting. Rahul kept wicket, and after doing a tidy job, he continued in the slot. Pant is fit, but it looks like he may have to wait until Rahul flops with the gloves. The Delhi player must be regretting his not cashing in on the chances he got. Age is on his side and there is no doubting his potential. He will remain in the plans for all three formats. He has some way to go to be termed a finished product and this break will allow him to work on his game and temperament without undue scrutiny.
The selectors though are convinced Dhoni’s utility is over. His slim chances depend on his having an outstanding IPL and the first choice options flopping. Samson has put pressure on the selectors with performances for Rajasthan Royals, but Pant is ahead, having done equally well for Delhi Capitals and having smashed two spectacular centuries in Tests.
This is the age of multidimensional cricketers. The attraction of IPL contracts has led to intense competition and there many examples of specialist batsmen or bowlers struggling to break into teams.
In this team, probably only Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Shikhar Dhawan can make it purely on their main skill. The rest feel the need to contribute with bat and ball to hold their spots.
Struggling for a regular place, Rahul had envisaged such a scenario. Realising it earlier than others, he had started keeping wicket for his IPL team and the Karnataka T20 side. The move paid off, providing India a back-up option when an opportunity arose in the series. He kept wicket in all three games.
This has clearly been Rahul’s series. His versatility shone through. He batted at No. 3, No. 5 and at the top and kept with confidence.