It's heartbreak for Indians fans after the Aussie win in the finals of the World Cup.
A man who hit rock-bottom but made a stunning comeback and was a backbone of the Indian side's domination till the finals: KL Rahul.
It Hasn't Been Easy for KL Rahul
The true character of sportsmen is often tested when they are down and out. The hardships at such times can either break a player or give them the strength to rise like a phoenix.
Just a few months ago, KL Rahul was facing countless brickbats from Indian cricket fans, one for not performing well in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the other, for getting injured with the World Cup in sight, through no apparent fault of his.
It was a deeply disturbing time for Rahul who was the go-to keeper-batsman for Team India after Rishabh Pant's freak accident ruled him out of World Cup plans. Mumbai Indians' young star, Ishan Kishan, was still seen as a raw product in international cricket. Social media had chosen its next villain – and Rahul was trolled incessantly, even when he put up a picture post his surgery in crutches!
The difficult period left him quite overwhelmed as Rahul admitted in an interview later, and he was forced to take the help of a mental health coach to block the outside noise.
In this backdrop, the road to recovery and rehabilitation was a tough one but it ended once Rahul returned to national duty and made a stunning impact at the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka.
Initially, as Ishan had performed well in the interim, Rahul was on probation and it was a small niggle to Shreyas, who was also returning from a back injury, which got him into the playing eleven.
It wasn’t just a return but a statement as Rahul hit an unbeaten century against Pakistan’s much-hyped bowling attack to seal the number 5 spot for himself. To most experts he seemed not only physically fitter but his game awareness was also far sharper.
KL Rahul's Dual Role
Rahul’s solid performances and permanency in the side also helped him being named the captain for the Aussie series after the Asia Cup. Such was the team management’s trust in him that in the absence of key players, Rahul was given the reins of the team against a strong Australian side. India won the series 2-1 and Rahul was completely at ease with the new responsibility as he hit two half-centuries.
Sterner challenges lay ahead as India began their World Cup campaign on the same note where they left off in 2019 in the semi-finals – losing 3 wickets for just 2 runs on board.
The likes of Josh Hazlewood and Mitchel Starc were almost unplayable in the first few overs at the MA Chidambaram stadium in Chennai.
But Rahul calmed the nerves of the Indian dressing room alongside Kohli in a fab partnership of 165 to take India home comfortably. While Kohli was helped by a dropped catch, Rahul’s 97 not out was a flawless display that gave no chance to Aussie bowlers.
In every match since that World Cup opener, India was bolstered by the calming presence of Rahul in the middle order. He fulfils the dual role of playing steady if the wickets are lost early and as a dasher coming at the end. In fact, Rahul’s scores this World Cup reflect his dynamic ability to adapt to every scorecard situation. Apart from the knock against Australia in the first league match, Rahul hit a blistering 62-ball ton against Netherlands, now the fastest century by any Indian in World Cups!
Even in the finals, Rahul’s 66-run knock was critical to India batting through the 50 overs. The weak Indian lower order meant that he had to play within himself and a strike rate of 61 will not do justice to the pressure he absorbed on the day. He may face criticism for being slow but history will see him in a better light and comprehend that it was just a collectively bad day for India that led to the defeat in the final.
Dependability and Calmness Make Him a Trusted Teammate for Rohit
Significantly, Rahul has turned the social media tide in his favour as many memes now talk of his precise calls on DRS (Decision Review System). Earlier, Dhoni was considered the master of the DRS and in his captaincy tenure, Kohli often sought Dhoni’s help. It’s the same now as Rohit consults Rahul before taking DRS calls.
Amid the madness of the bowlers and the fielders, Rahul remains unperturbed and has usually been correct in his judgements. Rohit now trusts Rahul’s assessments which helped India avoid unnecessary reviews.
Dependability and calmness weren’t always qualities that Rahul was associated with. His Test career started in the 2014-15 series in Australia where he announced his arrival with a century. Later, he often suffered more misses than hits though he has scored test tons in England and South Africa, in conditions considered tough for Asian batters. Despite these feats, he was often in and out of the side due to a lack of consistency.
Most experts believe that Rahul is no less talented than Kohli or Rohit. His ability to play pacers and spinners with equal ease makes him a terrific batter at any position in the order. After his return from injury, Rahul looks a different pedigree and acknowledges that he is mentally far tougher now than he was before – and the results highlight his class!
As fans and pundits reflect on the 2023 World Cup, KL Rahul's name will undoubtedly be synonymous with the triumph of skill and adaptability. His class and composure were a vital factor for India’s dream run at the World Cup though it did not get a fairy-tale ending. But given his classy comeback, this modest superstar from the south who never hogs the limelight is destined to remain a shining knight whenever India needs him the most!
(Siddhaarth Mahan is a writer on sports who also works as an actor and filmmaker in the Hindi film industry. He tweets at @siddhaarthmahan.)