AB de Villiers of Royal Challengers Bangalore plays a shot. FIle(PTI)
AB de Villiers of Royal Challengers Bangalore plays a shot. FIle(PTI)

The curious case of de Villiers and KL Rahul

"AB de Villiers. My admiration for this man has grown even more, if that was at all possible," writes Sanjay Manjrekar.
By Sanjay Manjrekar
UPDATED ON APR 21, 2021 06:47 AM IST

Just two venues so far have meant that some teams have had to play out of their comfort zone this time, MI and CSK most of all. MI are stuck in Chennai on slow pitches while CSK in Mumbai, on a batting paradise.

Two weeks is a short time and one must never try and draw conclusions of the teams’ eventual fate so let’s just restrict ourselves to observations, shall we?

AB de Villiers. My admiration for this man has grown even more, if that was at all possible. Why? Well, he came into this IPL looking a little different. He seemed to have put on weight, a reliable sign of someone not very active playing or training.

But even in that state, against what is essentially an international MI attack he played an innings of absolute genius. The rest struggled while AB dominated. This is an AB who may be warming up and getting some valuable match practice in actual matches!

He followed that performance with another blinder against KKR. There are a few great IPL batsmen around but AB is in a league of his own.

It’s also been a good time so far for some local players; the ones you will not see on hoardings or in any IPL promos. These guys have managed to turn the spotlight on them by game-changing performances.

Avesh Khan and Harshal Patel were picked to play by their franchises over bigger names like Umesh Yadav and Navdeep Saini respectively, suggesting that the penny may have dropped on IPL teams that it makes sense to pick a viable T20 talent over a bigger brand. Then there is Arshdeep Singh, Shahbaz Ahmed, Chetan Sakariya, the list is long.

Also the romanticism that some IPL teams have had with young, raw local quick bowlers seems to be waning. KKR loved this kind especially; they too are getting wiser and playing the less quick but more seasoned Prasidh Krishna over a Nagarkoti or Mavi.

Talking of romanticism, I have never understood why some IPL teams are fascinated by young inexperienced batsmen who seem to have the ‘T20 game’. The thing about IPL is it’s firstly about handling pressure. There is far too much at stake here on every moment and it gets to most of these batsmen.

Plus the fact that the sudden jump in quality of bowlers they have to hit for sixes now, gets the better of most of them. Also chasing 200 runs isn’t the norm in IPL, 160 is. So, really what you need are batsmen who can hold their nerve and have only a reasonable striking ability.

Hopefully in the coming seasons of the IPL we will see hardened, experienced FC batsmen instead of these fast tracked T20 ‘sensations’.

SRH played three of them against MI and botched up an easy run chase. Also 50 % of the time you are chasing scores, so the job description for batsmen down the order after the big stars have exploded at the top is to only keep their heads and strike at 125/130.

All those experienced batsmen scoring truckload of runs at the Ranji level averaging 50 and can strike at a maximum of 130 will be batsmen I would go for. They have more match experience and what they lack in power they will make up by temperament. I like what I see of Shahrukh Khan of Punjab by the way.

This brings me to my favourite subject these days: KL Rahul. Obvious class act when in full flow; has all the shots in the book, both against pace and spin, and against quality bowlers too. But he has massive ups and downs in performance.

After a promising start, his Test career is now on hold. When he averaged around a maximum of 29 in 5 consecutive full Test series, which included home Tests against not so strong teams, it really bothered me. How can a man of his ability be out of form and his batting in such disarray for so long?

Then there is the KL Rahul of the IPL, again same scenario. In 2018 this man got 659 runs at a strike rate of 158 and then two seasons later again scored a lot of runs 670 (which means he is not out of form) but strikes at only 129!

There again is your KL Rahul with the massive up and down returns with the strike rate. This season opener, he scored 91 at a strike rate of 182. I was very happy that he was now not playing within himself. Not surprisingly Punjab won that game but in his third match, batting first, at the Wankhede stadium he got a 61 at a strike rate of 119 and got out in the 16th over leaving batsmen to follow crumbs to feed on.

His team lost the match. I wonder if he is chasing the wrong goals. This is where the team management needs to ensure that this exceptional talent’s mind is uncluttered and is absolutely clear where he just sees the ball and hits the ball and thinks nothing else. Just like Shikhar Dhawan!

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