Rohit Sharma in his pre-match press conference, stated that someone’s career cannot be decided on one tournament Knock Out performance. But in the case of KL Rahul, there has been a pattern with the Indian Opener from quite sometime. In 2019 50-Over World Cup, he scored 361 runs from 9 innings and seemed like too nervous to kick-on. His average of 45.13 looks decent but only against Sri Lanka he scored at a strike rate of 94.07 as he kicked-on after getting a start to score 111 from 118 balls. In other matches, KL Rahul struggled to maintain a 75.00 strike rate.
Let’s now look at KL Rahul in T20 World Cups – In 2021, he played 5 innings and scored 69 (48) against Afghanistan, 50 (19) against Scotland and 54*(36) against Namibia. Against Pakistan he got out early scoring 3 (8) and against New Zealand scored 18 (16). In 2022, KL Rahul scored 4 (8) against Pakistan, 9 (12) against Netherlands, 9 (14) against South Africa. After everyone started asking to sack him, he scored 50 (32) against Bangladesh and 51 (35) against Zimbabwe. In all important Semi-Finals against England bowlers, whom he faced at IPL day-in and day-out he scored 5 (5). His aggregate is 11 innings, 322 runs at 32.22 average and Strike Rate 138.72.
KL Rahul proved beyond any doubt that he has talent to be a good batsmen as he has been consistent performer in IPL tournaments but how many knockout games did he play? KL Rahul scored 79 (58) in a 207 run chase, this year for Lucknow Super Giants, in all important Eliminator game. Before that, the team he represented, Royal Challengers Bangalore back then, played Finals in 2016. And he scored 0 (1) in Qualifier and 11 (9) in Finals. He played 109 matches, 100 innings and scored 3889 runs at 136.22 Strike Rate with 48.01 average. KL Rahul has 4 100s and 31 50’s in IPL over the years.
The point is even at IPL, where he has been overtly consistent and been getting Orange Cap, he never played knock out games regularly or when he got opportunities in CWC tournaments, he never showed much promise against BIG teams. While he is a good player, gifted and handsome stroke maker, he should have been more aggressive and pro-active when India really needed him to be at his best.
Rather, he always gets nervous and starts too timidly, making it difficult for others to follow. When Rohit Sharma has been in great form, as he is more aggressive and aggressor, India needed him to play strike rotator role but when he is batting with Virat Kohli, who is an aggregator himself, KL Rahul had to change his game as he does have shots to attack World Class bowlers.
If he finds it hard to overcome his nervousness against any attack during important matches, it is better to replace him with a better person who can handle pressure or more aggressive. Pakistan got Mohammad Haris, the aggressor at No.3 which settled their openers – Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan who have been out of form to play freely during a Semi-Final, giving it their best shot.
It is important for Indian Cricket to think ahead and go for Prithvi Shaw kind of aggressive opener rather than falling back on KL Rahul, who hasn’t been great in BIG matches, consistently even in IPL.
India loses to England by 10 wickets in Semi-Finals. Read here.