KL Rahul polarises cricketing spectrum at No.5 even as No.4 conundrum fails to get resolved. KL Rahul has 742 runs from 18 innings at No.5 in ODIs at an average of 53.
KL Rahul, in recent times, has become a polarising figure of Indian cricket. The right-hander has either looked out of sorts or has won India games when the team has found itself in trouble. Luckily for India, Rahul's match-winning knocks have come in the ODI format in which the upcoming World Cup is set to be played later in the year at home.
Why are KL Rahul's recent ODI returns a refreshing sight for India?
With India’s regular wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant all but out of the ICC ODI World Cup 2023 owing to his unfortunate accident in December 2022, Rahul has been primed to take the keeper’s slot and bat at number 5. Rahul has done well in that position whenever he was assigned that role sporadically. But with Pant not being there, it is likely that the 30-year-old has sealed that position going into the World Cup.
Though Rahul didn’t have the best of times in the other two formats, he has a tremendous record in the 50-overs format. The right-hander averages 45.13 in the 54 ODIs he has played for India and is only 14 shy of reaching the 2000-run mark in the format.
Apart from the good statistics and the runs he has scored, the manner in which he made those runs should give the team management a lot of confidence. Though he hasn’t played much at No.5 and the sample size is low, it’s the impact he has created that will motivate the team to give him a longer rope at this position despite quite a lot of competition there.
India may have found someone who can take the innings deep and play with a lot of calm and composure when the need arises. In the first ODI against Australia in Mumbai, Rahul demonstrated his patience as he helped stabilise the Indian innings which was once tottering at 39/4 in their pursuit of 189. He tackled the best of Australian pacers on what was a tricky Mumbai surface under lights and orchestrated an Indian win by 5 wickets courtesy his unbeaten 75.
This isn’t the first time that KL Rahul has saved India from a potential collapse. In the 2nd ODI against the visiting Sri Lankan side earlier in the year, the keeper-batter scored an unbeaten vital 64 off 103 balls which sealed the game in India’s favour. The home team was reduced to 86/4 in the chase of 216 and Rahul’s patient knock was needed to get India over the line.
His approach to the game, especially in chases, could be likened to MS Dhoni who more often than not stayed till the end steering India to a win. KL Rahul has accumulated 742 runs from 18 innings at No.5 in ODIs, at an impressive average of 53 with a century in New Zealand and 7 half-centuries at a healthy strike rate of close to 100. This shows he has adapted well to his role as a keeper-batter and most importantly has given the team management a positive signal ahead of the World Cup.
So, Rahul might have just sealed the No.5 position and this leaves India with the No.4 conundrum yet again.
Shreyas Iyer/Suryakumar Yadav for No.4?
Shreyas Iyer has played most of the games for India at the No.4 slot since the last world cup and with decent success. In 20 innings he has batted at 4, Iyer has amassed 805 runs at an average of 47.35 with 2 centuries but unfortunately is out of action for an unspecified amount due to his recurring back injury.
This has opened doors for the T20I superstar and No.1 batter in that format Suryakumar Yadav. But the right-hander has been a disappointment when it comes to the ODI format. He is yet to replicate his T20I success in the ODIs as he averages a touch over 24 in the 21 innings he has played. Even in the ongoing Australia ODI series, Surya bagged a first-ball duck thrice in a row and it appears his transition from T20I to ODI is not yet completed. The first two instances happened when he batted at 4 while the third one was when he was sent lower down the order at No.7. The team is giving him a longer rope to succeed in this format at various positions partially owing to his success in T20Is and the fact is there is uncertainty about Iyer’s availability for the World Cup. But, it would be huge plus if SKY does succeed at 4 or wherever he is used as it will be a huge thing for India going into the World Cup.
With Rahul batting at 5, he will be nicely sandwiched between 3 attacking batters- Suryakumar at 4 and Hardik Pandya or Ravindra Jadeja at No.6 with whom the team management may want to experiment in the coming ODIs. This gives India a lot of firepower in the middle order to go with the class at the top of the order. It also means that Iyer may have to miss out even if he is fit as Surya in his T20 form in ODIs will be a different beast altogether.
But ideally, it should be a toss-up between Rahul, Iyer and Suryakumar for two slots with Rahul being the front-runner to be India’s No.5 in the World Cup on current form.
India’s next ODI assignment is a three-match series in the West Indies post IPL in July before heading for the Asia Cup which is to be held in the ODI format. After that, India will once again play host to Australia for a 3-match series just before the World Cup in October.
So, there are potentially 12 ODIs left before the mega event for India to experiment and settle the combinations.