ATUL KUMAR MAURYA | 15th February 2020

If someone would’ve seen into the future three years ago and predicted KL Rahul to be, if not the first, then certainly the second or third name on the team sheet in the Indian setup, eyebrows would have been raised to say the least. Fast forward to 2020 and Rahul’s name is reverberating as India’s man for all occasions. And with his compatriots not grabbing their chances in the scheme of things, it is time for Rahul to step up and put the nail in the coffin on why he’s the best India have got at the moment, and for the future, too.

The Mangalore- born batsman made his first-class debut for Karnataka during the 2012-13 season which collided with when he represented India at the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup. But anyone that has followed KL’s journey would agree that his breakthrough season came in 2014-15. After scoring heaps of runs in the Duleep Trophy and Ranji Trophy for South Zone and Karnataka respectively, Rahul was called up to the Test side that was touring Australia. After becoming the fastest player to score a century in all three formats of the game, a lot was on the plate for Rahul to grab. But he faltered.

After his off-field antics with Hardik Pandya on the infamous ‘Koffee With Karan’ episode, both Pandya and Rahul lost their places in the side and were sent back from the tour of Australia in 2019.

For someone as eloquent and poised as Rahul, this didn’t do any favours to his reputation, especially considering the patience Indian fans were willing to show to back a player who was clearly destined for a spot in the side for the long haul.

Rahul was down, but certainly not out and slowly, but surely started crafting his own tale of redemption.

Since leaving Royal Challengers Bangalore and joining Kings XI Punjab in 2018, the silky strokeplayer hasn’t looked back. Opening the batting with the ‘Universe Boss’, Chris Gayle and making him play second fiddle to his destructive batting was something special that the Karnataka-born batsman showcased during the Indian Premier League. Apart from his stellar time at the crease, his efforts behind it weren’t too shabby when he started donning the gloves for the Punjab outfit. Steadily improving in both areas, all was going well for the batsman until the talk show debacle ensued.

After the BCCI allowed the ban to be lifted, the charismatic batsman was allowed to participate for India A. Continuing his blistering form from last year, Rahul smacked the bowlers all over the park, day in day out and became one of the most feared batsmen in IPL 2019. As the World Cup was on the horizon, a selection headache arrived for the BCCI selectors as both Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan were in sublime form and India were lacking a solid No. 4 batsman. KL Rahul was entrusted to rise to the challenge.

After being tried and tested at No. 4 and 6 in the first two matches, Rahul delivered with a brilliant century against Bangaldesh in a warm-up tie. However, after Dhawan’s injury against Australia, where the flamboyant Delhi batsman played through the pain to score a fantastic hundred, his sacrifice ultimately cost him as he was ruled out of the World Cup.

Rahul was seen as the man to replace Dhawan and was promoted up the order. It was a tall order for the much-maligned batsman to fill the boots of Mr. ICC, but he stepped up and was extremely consistent throughout the tournament.

Balance Is Key: The World Cup saw Rohit bring the heat and Rahul keep his cool

Since then, Rahul has continued this rich vein of form in emphatic fashion in both T20s and ODIs, solidifying his place in the side. After Rishabh Pant’s constant poor performances with the bat, India tried to mix things up and deployed KL Rahul as a wicketkeeper batsman, much like he does for his IPL franchise. After showcasing a pair of safe hands, it looks almost certain that KL can be the long-term answer behind the stumps after the unprecedented MS Dhoni era.

Now as India is exploring more opening options to make a team for the future, a lot of changes are being made to the squad. After finding a gem in Shreyas Iyer for the No. 4 spot, the Men in Blue were looking for a batsman capable of going gung-ho as well as anchoring the cause if things went south. Up steps KL Rahul, yet again. Adapting to a multitude of positional tweaks can take a toll on any player but Rahul has emerged as a Renaissance Man of sorts.

Embracing the unpredictability, KL has started 2020 on fire; whether it’s his clutch innings against Australia as well as his nifty wicketkeeping or becoming the highest run-getter in a T20 series in Indian history with 224 runs against the Kiwis, breaking Virat Kohli’s previous record of amassing 199 runs against the Aussies in 2016.

Rahul was brilliant with the gloves as well and was pivotal to the Men in Blue’s 5-0 whitewash of the New Zealanders.

KL Rahul’s audition behind the stumps ticked all the boxes

While Kane Williamson and Co. exacted revenge in the ODI series, Rahul’s sensational century in the penultimate tie that ultimately couldn’t save India’s blushed was more proof to how reliable he has become and that there’s plenty of fight in the lad who has always come off as one very much in his shell.

After being tried and tested in a lot of positions, one thing that’s for sure is that KL Rahul is special. Being the elegant batsman he is, Rahul is tailormade to play the orthodox shots with ease, however he can pack a punch with his cheeky strokeplaying ability and knack to go big when it matters. The backfoot punches through the covers, the flicks on the on-side, the little shimmy down the track and lofting the ball inside-out over the covers and mid-wicket, KL Rahul is easy on the eye when he’s at his best. Being equally proficient on both sides of the wicket, what separates Rahul from other batsmen is his ability to play according to the situation.

After all, making the likes of Rohit Sharma and Chris Gayle look tame in a partnership is not an easy feat. KL’s Rahul time is now and with how he’s going, is anyone going to stop him for seizing the future?