KL Rahul’s form: Is it governed by ‘Law of Diminishing Returns’ on the big stage? KL Rahul's T20I average is dropped from 50.95 to 28.95 in the last two years and strike rate from 146.64 to 127.44.
Kannaur Lokesh Rahul, the only other India batter in T20I history apart from Rohit Sharma to score more than one century, is seeing questions being raised over his lack of form. One doesn’t often see fingers being raised on a batter who averages 37.87 in 65 innings and who strikes at 138.75, but such is the state of Indian cricket and the healthy competition for the opener spot. While the rest of India’s top four batters have now scored at least 40+ runs in three innings cumulatively, Rahul has been the only let down in India’s World Cup campaign so far with 22 runs in three innings.
Is Rahul’s poor show a sudden downfall? Or have the selectors been ignoring the numbers for too long?
KL Rahul's performance has been disappointing, to say the least, in the ongoing ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022, with 22 runs in three innings off 34 deliveries at a paltry strike rate of 64.70. Though three games should not be enough to raise concerns about KL's form, it is about the entire 2021 and 2022 seasons combined. Rahul used to average about 50.95 between 2016 and 2020, when he accumulated a mammoth 1542 runs effortlessly at a staggering average of 50.95 and scored both his T20I centuries in the said period. The downfall of KL started in 2021. And the numbers for Rahul have declined faster than Europe’s GDP.
In the last two years, Rahul has struggled for runs in all three formats, not just T20Is. And as they say, the numbers don’t lie either. KL Rahul has only scored 608 runs in 23 innings at a below par average of 28.95 in the last two years. There has been a drop of almost 22 per cent in Rahul’s average in the first five years compared to the last two years. With respect to the strike rate, well, the picture isn’t good there either. Rahul used to strike at an average strike rate of 146.64 between 2016 and 2020 and the strike rate has slowed down by more than 13 pc, as he now strikes at just 127.44 in the past 2 years.
KL Rahul’s performances against weaker oppositions vis a vis stronger oppositions show stark contrast
Like the law of diminishing returns in economics, the higher the pressure of big matches, the lower the scores of KL Rahul when thrown in the middle in those situations. KL Rahul has been looked at as the stand-in skipper in Tests and ODIs in the absence of Rohit Sharma due to his performances at a broader level. However, a captain/leader needs to step up when others around him fail. But that has not been the case with KL. Rahul has played in three world cups so far: two T20 WCs (one of which is the ongoing edition) and one 50-over Cricket World Cup.
Upon deep diving into KL’s contribution on big stages, when the pressure is off the roofs or in matches against tougher oppositions, KL has succumbed and succumbed big time against quality opposition. In the 2019 Cricket World Cup, KL scored 361 runs at an average of 45.13. While the healthy average might persuade one to stop looking into the bigger picture, not everything is as good with Rahul as the average suggests. Around 60 pc of the total 361 runs came against Sri Lanka (111), Afghanistan (30) and Bangladesh (77). On the other hand, his struggles were evident against established teams, as just 40 pc of his runs came against big teams like South Africa (26), Australia (11), Pakistan (57) and West Indies (48). To top that up, he had a critical failure against New Zealand in the semi-final game, where he managed to score just 1 run.
In the T20 World Cups Lokesh has featured in, inclusive of the ongoing T20 World Cup down under, he averages 48.50 in the 2021 edition and 7.33 in the 2022 edition. Similar to the ODI World Cup, the averages of Lokesh Rahul in the 2021 T20 World Cup can be deceptive too. Of the total 194 runs scored by Rahul in five innings, 173 (89.17 pc) of those runs came against Afghanistan (69), Scotland (50) and Namibia (54), while a meagre cumulative of 21 runs came against Pakistan (3) and New Zealand (18). With respect to the 2022 edition, the runs have dried up even against the likes of the Netherlands, where Rahul scored just 9 runs off 12 deliveries.
So, long story short, deciphering the “KL Rahul law of diminishing returns” against bigger teams only leads us to the conclusion that Rahul goes inside his shell against tough teams. The question that then arises is that whether Rahul is given that kind of a role by the team management? Is he curbing his natural stroke-making ability against better teams, which he showcases against below-par teams? It's not that only KL has been struggling in pressure situations; other Indian batters too are struggling. But it's the pattern of KL's form which suddenly goes from WOW to WHAT against tough teams.
Well, all in all, not just for India’s supporters but cricket lovers across the globe, all would want a free-flowing, natural-striking Rahul to be on the field and leave the baggage of carrying the team behind, which he does for his franchise teams in the IPL.
If KL Rahul fires for India, then on any given day, India can post 200+ totals and can even chase them with ease given the kind of power-hitters India have down the batting order. It would be fascinating to see how Rahul performs in the rest of the tournament with the only tough matches lined up from here on being the semi-finals, if India qualify, which could test Rahul. While the rest of the matches in the Super 12 stage are against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, we all know Lokesh Rahul can score a hundred off 50 deliveries, even on one leg.