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2018 is going to be KL Rahul’s year!
As we know, my sporting predictions have hardly ever come true so you may be reading this while rolling your eyes. Lokesh Rahul has already had an outstanding three years in international cricket, why is this year going to be different? A brilliant opener in test cricket, a sensational T20 record for the country and a great one day player in the making. So what is there to show to the public? Yet, if we ask the boy from Karnataka himself, he will most likely say that he still has a lot to prove. Surprisingly not picked in the first test match against South Africa at the beginning of the year and not picked in the ODI squad since September 2017, there have been disappointments that would be difficult to deal with for many. Yet, KL Rahul took that adversity as an opportunity to improve as a player. An utterly stunning IPL campaign for his side has now seen him earn a recall to the ODI side for the England tour. But first, he will play against Afghanistan on Thursday, starting arguably a career-defining year.
Since he made his first test century against Australia in Sydney, KL Rahul’s reputation as a fine classical batsman was set into motion. Another three centuries have followed, including a magnificent 199 against England, in his career so far. However, possibly the best part of his career was his run of six half centuries in seven innings. This does not sound like an amazing statistic, but under the circumstances, it was a monumental effort. Australia had thoroughly outplayed India in the first test match in Pune and India were under the pump at home for the first time since 2012. Even in the first innings in Bengaluru, the batting lineup which included the highly heralded trio of Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane were undone by Nathan Lyon. KL Rahul stood strong to score half of India’s runs in that innings. While everyone around him was struggling, his cultured defence allowed him to capitalise on the rare bad ball from the Australians. With the most important innings of his career under his belt, he showed his full array of timing and placement and scored the winning runs in a series that defines this current generation of Indian cricket. With the IPL giving him the confidence to believe in his ability again, he should be able to counteract the spin twins of Afghanistan this week with ease. Whether his teammates do, that is a whole different story.
Since the 2016 ODI series away to Australia, India have been utterly dominant in the limited overs format except the Champions Trophy final against Pakistan. Even in this period of superlative performances, and even more so on that day, one position in the batting lineup has been up for grabs. The number four spot. With KL Rahul being picked for the England tour, it looks like he will be given a chance once again to make that spot his own. A key thing to realise that this position in the batting lineup needs a batsman who can be multidimensional. It is possible that you may have to come in very early to the middle and you will need to stabilise the innings and then accelerate. On the contrary, and more likely with the vaunted top three, KL Rahul will come in after an exceptional start. He will need to adapt to the run rate immediately, and extend the relentless attack on the opposition. This is what Rahane, Yuvraj Singh and KL Rahul himself struggled to do. What makes me so sure that he can be successful this time around? One benefit that the IPL does have is that it gives exposure for the players to some of the greatest players the game has ever seen. KL Rahul had the pleasure of being under the tutelage of Virender Sehwag and talking about that experience, it was clear to see he enjoyed the moment. “He gave us full freedom to express ourselves.” That is exactly what the South Indian boy needs to do in one-day cricket. It is of course easier said than done, but he should try and compartmentalise the pressure that comes with this number four spot. If he trusts his skill and training, he can become one of the best in the world.
So, a critical year for India starts in earnest on Thursday, with many treacherous challenges ahead. Their chances of success will massively improve if KL Rahul can have the year of his life, and by all accounts, he is well on his way to do exactly that.