SOUTHAMPTON: There is something about him, which you may or may not like. He walks in for practice with a swag, does things in his own way and onlookers can sometimes get a feeling that he has an air about himself. That is not quite the case with KL Rahul. He is like anybody else. Just that his unhurried style of going about things sometimes creates that impression.
About three weeks into the World Cup, Rahul has become a central character in India’s scheme of things from being a peripheral one. Beginning the competition in the middle-order and thrust into the role of opener following the injury to Shikhar Dhawan, he is a crucial cog in the wheel, given the team’s dependence on the top three. It might have been a big adjustment and not an easy one, but the batsman from Karnataka showed no sign of stress against Pakistan during a steady knock of 57.
For the great Indian dream to come to fulfilment or to get close, the 27-year-old has to be consistent in a format where he has always been in and out. This is the first time actually that he will be playing nine or 10 ODIs in a row should India reach the semifinals, with him in the XI. And he has big shoes to fill too, considering Dhawan’s ability to produce big scores in big games of ICC events. Class never in doubt, Rahul looked ready to play according to the situation in the last game.
“I had to wait for my chance to open and I am happy that I am batting at the top of the order. It’s not easy to replace Shikhar, who has been such a formidable presence for us in the last few years. Everywhere in the world he got runs. My job will be to respect the bowlers and the good balls in the first few overs. It’s important to be switched on from the first ball because in these conditions there will be good balls,” said Rahul after the 136-run opening stand with Rohit Sharma in Manchester.
In Southampton, the opener has looked his characteristic self. Having nets in shorts worn over tights, doing fielding drills wearing gloves covering up to the knuckles and walking around with calm confidence which defines him, he looks a transformed man. Perhaps that comes from the certainty over his role. Before Dhawan got injured, he was not sure where he would bat. In case of early wickets, he would be No 4, like against South Africa. If the team had partnerships, he would bat after the big hitters, as it happened against Australia, where he walked out in the last over.
Other than contributing to the cause of the team, one also earns the respect of peers if he succeeds in different situations and roles. “It speaks a lot about the individual’s ability to adjust if one does it,” said Jasprit Bumrah on Thursday. “Rahul got just a few balls against Australia and struck them well (11 not out in three balls). When he opened he did the job. It’s not easy to bat in different positions and when one does that, it reduces a lot of headaches for the team.”
From being spoken about as someone whose temperament was questionable to being hailed as a batsman with the mental ability to make difficult adjustments, Rahul has come a long way. Importantly for Virat Kohli’s team, it has happened at the right time. Sterner tests lie ahead. But the team can take heart from the fact that the person they entrusted with a difficult responsibility is showing signs of coming of age. That half-century in Manchester might have changed the way Rahul saw himself and also, how the world saw him.