CHENNAI: 125.00. 101.21. 112.69. 146.49. 158.41. 135.38. 129.34. That’s the strike rates of KL Rahul in his IPL career. After really catching the eye in 2016 and 2018 as a top-order batsman not afraid to lose his wicket, the opener has somewhat changed his role to that of an anchor over the last two seasons (the Punjab Kings’ skipper is the only to have faced more than 900 balls across the last two campaigns).
Even if this method has made him more consistent — in 2019 he was the second-highest run-scorer before walking away with the Orange Cap last year — it’s made him less destructive in the powerplay.
One man who had a ringside view to Rahul’s evolution in 2020 is Wasim Jaffer, the franchise’s batting coach. Jaffer is of the opinion that Rahul took it upon himself to play the role of anchor to take the side to ‘a total where we won’t lose’. But Jaffer, who spoke to select media outlets in a Zoom press conference on Wednesday, conceded that he was a touch slow in the desert.
“The way he batted last year, he anchored because he probably felt that you know... Glenn Maxwell didn’t have a good season and there wasn’t much batting after 6 which is probably not the case this time around. So we might see a little bit aggressive Rahul (this time). He does shift gears smoothly but probably batted a little timidly or maybe a little slower than he does all the time or he felt he had to anchor to get us to a score where we won’t lose. You might see a different approach from him this season.”
In fact, batsmen like Rahul are at the centre of a continuing debate on the role of anchors in T20. Are they redundant? Does the format even have scope for an anchor? Jaffer, who featured in the inaugural IPL match between Kolkata and Bangalore in 2008, said that there is a place for an anchor but puts a caveat. “We always talk about one batsman needing to bat through. But at the same time, the more balls you bat in T20s, your strike rate needs to keep going up. The anchor doesn’t mean you bat at a strike rate of 90 or 100 all the time. The more you bat, your strike rate needs to keep going up from 120 to 140 or maybe even 160 in the death. That is very important.”
Because of the added batting depth in the Punjab line-up this time Fabian Allen and M Shahrukh Khan could provide that muscle at the end they lacked last year Rahul could go back to his original avatar.
As far as the team itself is concerned, Jaffar says there is better balance about them this year. “We needed somebody who can bowl 145 km/hr in the death overs. With their additions (Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith) have got pace, Dawid Malan is the world’s No 1 T20 batsman... so looking good.” Their first few matches, against Rajasthan and Chennai, sides which finished outside the top four last year, will offer some clues as to whether that’s the case.