MANCHESTER: Roughly a year ago, KL Rahul seemed to have taken a giant step towards cementing his place in India’s limited-overs setup. His cracking century against England in a T20I in Manchester had made a chase of 160 look relatively easy. It was a hundred that as per his admission meant the world to him. He had been in limited-overs set up for over two years and hadn’t capitalised on his potential. That century not only gave India a win over England. It also was supposed to mark the arrival of KL Rahul, the limited-overs player.
But instead, a poor Test series against England a month later, Rahul found himself in the same quandary, trying to figure out his role in the Indian team across all formats. He was no longer guaranteed a place in the Test squad either, and his appearances remained limited in coloured clothing. Then came yet another setback, perhaps the most gut-wrenching of the lot, when Rahul was banned by the BCCI for his loose comments on a talk show, putting his World Cup berth in serious jeopardy. In short, the world around Rahul was crumbling.
No one has quite experienced the term roller-coaster ride like Rahul, as cliched as it may sound. Five months removed from the ban, Rahul is now an India opener, at least for a few games, at the World Cup. Rahul, picked in India’s 15-member World Cup squad as a backup, is now part of the top-three. The injury to Shikhar Dhawan means that he was Rohit Sharma’s partner at the top. And his first big assignment, in that role was the biggest match of them all – India vs Pakistan.
When the World Cup was in its warm-up stage, Rahul was emerging as a strong contender for the No. 4 spot. With the century he scored in the absence of Vijay Shankar, Rahul staked his claim for that spot. But how quickly do things change in cricket? Pushed back up, the India vs Pakistan contest was quite the challenge for Rahul, a test he aced on the big-match day.
On Sunday, batting at a position he is most familiar with, Rahul played the perfect second-fiddle to a demolition derby led by Rohit Sharma at the other end. From the moment Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed won the toss and opted to bowl, Rahul took first strike to Mohammad Amir, coming off a five-wicket-haul against Australia. Two years ago, Rahul did not face Amir when he ripped through India’s top three in the Champions Trophy final. And on Sunday, he gave a glimpse of how different things could have been had Rahul been there at Lord’s.
A lot of water has flown under the bridge since. Here, Pakistan, with their new bowlers, were going for the kill. But Rahul soaked the pressure like the ideal foam. There’s been a certain pattern to India’s batting in the first pattern recently – to play out a few overs initially and go for it once set. Using that practice as a gauge, Rahul began cautiously, well aware of the situation that beckoned.