Kings XI Punjab Pin Hopes on KL Rahul’s ‘Triple Avatar’
KL Rahul will be playing this IPL as the captain, wicket-keeper and opener of Kings XI Punjab.
"Ppl will start talking highly abt @klrahul11‘s leadership after this ipl, I certainly do."
Irfan Pathan's tweet from a few days back highlights the kind of expectations KL Rahul carries this season for Kings XI Punjab. Unlike before, Rahul will be donning a triple role for Punjab this year in the IPL - opening the batting, keeping wickets and captaining the side.
Each of his roles are critical to how Kings XI's season transpires primarily because his approach, role and leadership is central to the balance of the franchise.
To understand the workload Rahul is taking upon himself this season, it is imperative to throw in some perspective.
In the history of T20I cricket, only nine players have played as the captain, designated wicket-keeper and opener. None of them have played more than 10 matches in this triple role with Quinton de Kock’s 8 being the highest.
If you think T20Is are too small a sample size considering they only began just over a decade ago, numbers from the One Day International history should only add more weight to the load Rahul is already covered in.
In ODIs, there have only been 8 players to keep, captain and open the batting. Alec Stewart, with 28 ODIs in this triple role, tops the list in terms of matches. Only three of these eight players have played over 10 games.
Kings XI have meddled with their coaching staff for this season and have Anil Kumble on board as head coach. They also made key acquisitions in the auction with Sheldon Cottrell, James Neesham, Glenn Maxwell and Chris Jordan bringing in overseas power. However, their fortunes this season will still hinge on each of the three avatars Rahul, the most integral element in the setup, will don.
Opener Rahul - The Approach
KL Rahul is a terrific T20 batsman. There are enough arguments to hail him as India's best T20 batsman, even over Virat Kohli. His versatility is evident from the manner in which he changes his approach based on team requirements.
In 2018, alongside an in-form Chris Gayle, Rahul had the freedom to be the aggressor-in-chief early on. Gayle's slow starts also meant that Rahul had to kick off early. His strike rate in the first six overs was a whopping 157.58 that year.
In 2019, Gayle's form dipped and the Kings XI middle-order seemed too weak to compete if Rahul couldn't bat deep into the batting innings more often. This meant he took a more calculated approach early on.
Rahul’s strike rate was a mere 120.83 in the powerplay phase in 2019 but it raced into the late 130s by the middle overs and mid-160s by the death.
Kings XI will want him to decide his approach for this season. With the middle-order strengthened by the addition of Glenn Maxwell and the growth of Nicholas Pooran and Sarfaraz Khan as T20 cricketers, Rahul has leeway to start in an explosive manner like in 2018, his most successful season - 654 runs at an average of 54.91 - in the IPL.
The Balance Rahul Adds When Keeping
“I think KL [Rahul] will obviously take up ‘keeping and then, we will take it from there,” Anil Kumble was quoted as saying by Sportstar two weeks back.
That Kings XI do not really have a back-up plan is primarily because they need Rahul to keep to maintain a good team balance on paper. When Rahul keeps, Kings XI can afford to sit Pooran out if needed to play an additional overseas pacer in Chris Jordan to amp up their death bowling threat.
Death overs and powerplay were major concerns for Kings XI Punjab with the ball last season and Cottrell and Jordan's additions during the auction was primarily to plug the glaring gaps. However, to start with Jordan and Cottrell, Punjab will need to play just two out of Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, Glenn Maxwell, Nicholas Pooran, James Neesham and Chris Gayle.
Mujeeb, being the lead spinner now that Ravichandran Ashwin is gone, will likely be an automatic choice which means there's only room for one of the rest. If they sit Jordan out, they will have to choose two out of Gayle, Pooran and Maxwell. Having Rahul keep helps them solve one conundrum and maintain a better team balance. He also did have an explosive season for them in 2018 while keeping wickets.
The Role of a Leader at Kings XI Punjab
The grapevine is that Kings XI Punjab do not stick with their captains for too long. This is backed by numbers too as they have had 12 captains in 13 editions of the IPL so far. Rahul, who has been with the franchise for two seasons now, has a good grasp of the issues plaguing the franchise and is a trusted lieutenant of Anil Kumble.
“It was very important to choose the captain [for the season]. I have known KL [Rahul], seen him as a young kid growing up in Bengaluru, and as a cricketer. It’s his first season as skipper but he knows the team better than me. He has played here for two seasons.”Anil Kumble to Sportstar
The faith Kumble has and the expectations fans have from him despite his inexperience as skipper underlines the kind of growth KL Rahul has had. Kings XI have perennially underachieved due to mismanaging their resources. While the heavy duty workload on Rahul is in itself a question mark, the opener is best placed to take the franchise forward.
It will take a humungous effort from him to lift this team past the league stage, something that last happened in 2014. If he does pull off his triple role, he won't be the first Rahul from Karnataka to take up additional workload to meet team requirements and still remain in peak form.
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