IPL 2018: KL Rahul and his new found machismo with the bat
KL Rahul has been the lynchpin of KXIP's batting.
Prior to the IPL auctions in January, several experts had zeroed in on the players whom franchises would play the Right-To-Match (RTM) card on. In the case of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, it was thought that it would be on Yuzvendra Chahal, who had been excellent for the side despite them failing as a unit in the last few seasons.
There was a minority, however, who felt that the Virat Kohli-led side could place their bet on KL Rahul, a player who had evolved enormously as a limited-overs batsman at the franchise, scoring 397 runs in the 2016 edition.
That didn't turn out to be the case and the right-hander was instead picked by the Kings XI Punjab for a sum of Rs 11 crore, a good nine crores more than his base price.
All his life, Rahul has been an opener. It's the role which has got the best out of him. He likes it when the ball is new and hard and comes on to the bat. India tried him at four last year but did not get the results that they had searched for.
Sensing that, the Kings XI Punjab gave him what he wanted - a slot at the top - and boy, has he excelled.
537 runs in 11 matches at a strike-rate of 162.37 puts him just behind Rishab Pant for the most number of runs this season, with two matches left in the league phase and possibly two or three more if they get to the Playoffs.
With the likes of Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair and others not among the runs, Rahul has been the Indian batsman on whom the side has depended on the most and each time he has come up with the goods.
Chris Gayle has put in the sporadic good performance, but Rahul has been the shining star for the franchise with the bat.
Nobody can score those many runs minus any method. Rahul's success in this IPL can be attributed to twokey factors.
The off-side play
Early on his innings, especially in the last three matches, Rahul has been fed with a lot of balls on or just outside the off-stump and that has allowed him to either drive or cut the ball and get boundaries at will.
With just two fielders allowed outside the 30-yard circle in the Powerplay, boundary opportunities are available.
Playing normal cricketing shots
There are quite a few theories that float around batting in T20 cricket and whether there is one set method. When the format was dormant, it was believed that the only way to score was to slog your way through, that every ball was meant to be slammed away with eyes closed and no use of the feet.
In the last few years, however, the trend has changed. A lot of the players have adopted the strategy of playing conventional cricketing strokes and the end result has been a very positive one.
Even a marauding batsman like Chris Gayle has chosen to hit the ball a lot straighter as it has eliminated the chances of him getting out early.
Rahul's success in this IPL can be attributed to the fact that he has been looking to play normal shots and get the runs, especially at the start of the innings. He is playing risk-free cricket and once he is set, he is looking to innovate.
Those exploits have earned him a spot back in India's 50-over side for the tour of England. The question now arises: Will the management be willing to bench Shikhar Dhawan and open with Rahul and Rohit Sharma instead?
India has found itself with this opening conundrum in the last few years in Test cricket and somehow managed to find a way out. Getting out of this one, however, could be tricky because Dhawan has had a terrific 2017 in ODI cricket while Rohit has arguably been India's best ODI batsman in the last 4-5 years.
How do the management bring an in-form Rahul in then?
That discussion is for another day. Right now, it is imperative from a Kings XI Punjab perspective that Rahul keeps this purple patch going. The team as a whole has been on a slight decline in recent times, but with others not playing as well as they would've liked, Rahul's important right now to the side is as high as it has ever been.