“I wasn’t thinking much…there was just one way to get to a century.” said KL Rahul after marking his ODI debut with a century. And he did so in style. Finding himself six short of the three-figure mark, but with the team only needing a further two runs to win the match, there was, as he said, only one way he could have gone.
In a move that was reminiscent of batting legend Virender Sehwag, Rahul decided to hammer a majestic six over long-on — the first in the entire match — off Hamilton Masakadza’s bowling in the 43rd over, and killed two birds with one stone.
Within the cricket fraternity, Rahul had somewhat established himself as a Test specialist since making his domestic debut six years ago. A first-class average of 52 along with two centuries in five Test appearances would certainly corroborate that statement. However, Rahul has managed to change that perception in the last couple of months with a string of consistent performances in the shorter formats, starting with the Indian Premier League(IPL) before Saturday’s century on ODI debut.
The 24-year-old Karnataka batsman’s story this year has been that of under-rated consistency. While Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers were the toast of the Royal Challengers Bangalore’s star-studded batting line-up, Rahul quietly went about his business and got vital runs at the top of the order and formed important partnerships to keep the momentum going.
And though he could not break into the top 10 run-getters’ list for the IPL, the tournament provided all the proof the world needed of his ability in the 20-over format. A call-up to the Zimbabwe-bound squad was the least the national selectors could have done thereafter.
Despite the feeble opposition, Saturday’s knock was an indicator of the fine temperament that Rahul possesses. The RCB batsman focussed on gathering runs at a steady pace alongside Ambati Rayudu after the early loss of opening partner Karun Nair. Until the final couple overs, he never looked like the century was on his mind. The pitch became easier for batting in the afternoon, but it was still a difficult one to bat on. Even part-timers like Chamu Chibhabha was able to extract extra pace and bounce.
The pair was out doing a block-a-thon during the first Powerplay, managing 27 runs in 10 overs before adding another 13 in the next five. Unlike the Zimbabweans, however, who mostly fell to poor shot selection against a relatively more experienced bowling attack, Rahul and Rayudu managed to get boundaries at a quicker pace once they settled at the crease. It was only a matter of time before the two started ticking off the milestones.
Never did Rahul take a risk during his entire innings, and it was only when the match was virtually conquered that the wicketkeeper-batsman go for the big shot. In the end, however, he still managed an impressive strike-rate of 86.95 after hammering seven boundaries to go with the winning six. A quintessential match-winning ODI innings that never looked influenced by the slam-bang nature of T20s that he just came out of.
Rahul has announced himself to the world and more consistent knocks like this over the next one week will only strengthen his push for a spot in the playing XI. Last year, it was Rayudu and Axar Patel who managed to earn spots in the limited-overs squads for the home series against South Africa after shining in Zimbabwe. It’s a different story that they could not capitalise on the opportunity.
Rahul is already a favourite for featuring in the Test side, the format of which will dominate India’s 2016/17 home season — with as many as 13 such fixtures lined up in the next few months. Given that he has already shined with the bat in foreign conditions, it will be expected of him to get some big scores on the flat decks at home.
On his ODI debut, Rahul has shown that he is a man for all occasions and formats. The youngster will also be looking to learn the art of wicketkeeping from captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and will hope to take his place someday.
The annual tour of Zimbabwe following the IPL is fast developing into a tradition for the Indian selectors who look to test their bench strength in the African nation. And even though we have only just witnessed the first game of the 2016 edition of the tour, Rahul may well turn out to be the find of the tournament. His only hope in the coming future would be to not end up in a similar tour next year.