KL Rahul, longtime apprentice, learns from the chasing master

KL Rahul and Virat Kohli combined to turn a spectacular collapse into a batting masterclass in Chennai. At the venue, Aadya Sharma writes on Rahul, there is no stalker trainee anymore.

For all that chase-mastery Virat Kohli Celebrated for, victory in Chennai required subtracting most of the qualities that made his batting great.

There was no initial burst, no mad dash between the wickets, no intense pace in the death overs. This was a sum of small victories in a total of thirty-five overs. For this it was necessary to lower one’s head instead of looking at the bowler’s face. This required smiling at the missed outside edges, not scoffing at his bat.


The extraordinary de-glam was the product of extraordinary circumstances. Two overs, three wickets, two runs, one maiden. In its long ODI history, India had never lost three wickets for less runs.

The Chepauk Stadium, which was filled almost to capacity and was accustomed to winning frequently, was stunned beyond belief. No team that reached that score had ever won an ODI match.

Completing the chase could not have been a one-man job, not even for Kohli and his almighty powers. In fact, by the end of it, he wasn’t the main protagonist.

He was also accompanied by KL Rahul, who was making rapid progress in his ups and downs career. His childhood coach Samuel Jayaraj believes that Rahul was born to open. But after years of discovery and re-discovery, Rahul has found his place at No. 5 in ODIs.

“He always came early to bat and never came out of the nets,” Jayaraj said. Wisden India Last year. “Even if he says ‘final three’, it will be the final 30.”

It was this core quality that became the essence of Rahul’s batting in Chennai. There was no increasing run speed, no compulsion to hit hard, and no scope for trickery. To deal with the robotic Josh Hazlewood, pitching the ball with breathtaking accuracy and pristine seam position, you have to be a robot yourself.

“We just have to play proper shots and play like Test cricket for some time and see where it goes,” Kohli told Rahul.

In the first few overs, Kohli and Rahul let go of any intention of scoring runs. The storm had to pass. After a sequence of silence, Rahul’s bat unleashed the first scoring stroke: a neatly creamed drive from the wrecker-in-chief. The runs were still far and few.

A decisive moment came when Kohli was dismissed by a special ball from Hazlewood, the ball touching his swinging bat. Moments later, Kohli slid down and delivered a powerful blow – the sound echoed in several thousand living ears in Chepauk – and in front of the screens of many others too. It wasn’t a statement or a redemption or anything like that. It was just the story of that day: you play some, miss some.

Dead-bats, dry strokes and near misses made it into the highlight reel of the first powerplay. And oh, a dropped catch that almost led to a reverse situation. Still no one was panicking. Three overs later, Rahul sent Cummins’ ball across the boundary. Even amidst batting collapse, he can time the ball like a dream.

Spin came, first through Glenn Maxwell, emphatically declared a “frontline spinner” by Hazlewood after the game, and then Adam Zampa, considered the trump card of Australia’s World Cup plans.

This is where Rahul’s talent shined. He made admirable use of his crease, jumping at various depths to cut the turning ball. It was almost too dangerous, the cuts were played as late as they could be, but Rahul caught the short early. Zampa’s googly scored 13 runs in the first over, which is the highest score so far in the innings.

Over the next few hours, Kohli and Rahul went on an auto-pilot grind. After the initial damage was neutralized, Kohli settled into his usual chasing role, but Rahul was the more comfortable of the two. Kohli was gifted an early drop, hit on the helmet by a bouncer and narrowly missed an outside edge on at least three occasions. Rahul, for his part, handled all the ups and downs with sensitivity and by the second half it felt like he had moved a little further into his class.

It was another representation of Rahul’s recent pattern in chasing: bat slow, score big. This year, while batting at number two, his average is 123.66 with a strike rate of 75.56, whereas while batting first, his average is 51.4 and strike rate is 109.4.

Yes, under the lights, the surface behaved better than the Australians, with the dew also making its presence felt, but that was still a big question. This was the opening game of the home World Cup, against a team with five players at home.

On a personal level, it means a lot to Rahul. Here was a player who had not played a single game of cricket from May to September, due to a complete rupture of the tendon that had torn his quadriceps. The entire country had hopes from India’s current number 5 and main wicketkeeper.

Rahul’s biggest fear throughout his recovery had nothing to do with batting. In his own words, he feared whether he would ever have quadriceps strong enough to withstand the countless squats required of a wicketkeeper. The return was further tested in the Asia Cup, when he missed two games to fix a new problem.

When he caught his arm around the 36th over in Chennai, one wondered what new injury he had sustained. But it was just cramps, caused by Owen’s hot afternoon, where he lasted almost 50 overs, and then came out to bat for another 40 after 12 balls in humid air. Fitness test passed. Similarly, the test of batting.

The century against Pakistan in the Asia Cup and now the century against Australia in the World Cup are two major points in Rahul’s ODI achievement list. For someone who often plays without a fixed position, and who is often ostracized, shunned and often criticized, Chepauk’s innings was the physical expression of the celebration he deserves throughout his career. Kind of enjoys: fingers in ears, eyes closed. No time for outside noise.

Open them, Rahul. There is only praise outside today. And to say it quietly, but the burden of India’s chase in the ODIs might have been divided in Chennai. There is no apprentice now.

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