SK Elite: When KL Rahul smashed the highest score by an Indian batsman in T20Is
Since the advent of T20 cricket, it has become imperative for any modern-day batsman to possess multiple gears in order to stand out across all three formats of the game. Among Indian batsmen, only three have managed to score at least one century each in Tests, ODIs and T20Is.
Following in the footsteps of Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul smashed a stunning century in the first T20I against West Indies at the Central Broward Regional Park Stadium Turf Ground in Florida in August last year.
Aside from inducting the elegant right-hander into a rare club of versatile batsmen, the astonishing knock also saw the Bangalore-born cricketer overhaul Rohit's record to set the highest individual score by any Indian batsman in T20Is.
Even though India lost the thrilling match by a solitary run, there were quite a few positives from the match. Not only did they register the highest ever team total while batting second in T20I history, the 'Men in Blue' also managed to gain a dependable young batsman.
Let us now relive the events surrounding Rahul's spectacular ton and how the game heralded a new chapter in the classy batsman's journey in the international arena.
Rahul goes on the rampage
Upon winning the toss, Indian skipper MS Dhoni surprisingly decided to bowl first on a flat surface. With the shorter boundaries also adding to the bowler's dilemma, the 'Men in Blue' had their task cut out against a menacing West Indies batting lineup. Riding on Evin Lewis's 49-ball 100 and Johnson Charles's opening salvo, the Caribbean outfit notched a jaw-dropping total of 245 from their 20 overs.
No team had ever chased such a massive total in the shortest format, including matches outside the purview of the international circuit. Even as the odds were heavily stacked against them, there were a few weak links in the bowling attack of the World T20 holders. \
It was imperative that India got off to a strong start. However, Ajinkya Rahane and the irrepressible Virat Kohli were sent back within the first five overs. With his team staring into an abyss, Rahul walked into the arena.
The then 24-year old immediately launched an explosive counter-attack by ruthlessly targeting Sunil Narine. As a consequence of his revamped bowling action, the element of mystery was taken from the off-spinner's arsenal.
Rahul capitalised by plundering 16 runs off the last over of the Power Play. Carlos Brathwaite, leading West Indies for the first time, introduced himself into the attack despite having the services of the experienced Dwayne Bravo.
Although he conceded 21 runs from his first spell, the seamer almost procured the vital scalp of Rahul by inducing an ungainly heave from the usually technically correct batsman. But Andre Russell dropped a difficult catch at long-off.
Even as Rahul was going strong at his end, Rohit was not sparing the bowlers either. The opener picked up length with consummate ease and treated the audience to a dazzling array of shots. At the half-way mark, India required a further 130 runs to create history. Both batsmen had brought up their respective half-centuries and were looking to press the accelerator.
When they were searching for a breakthrough, the headway came from an unlikely source. The gentle medium pace of Kieron Pollard forced Rohit to create the impetus on his own. But the almighty slog went only as far as Charles at deep mid-wicket. The experienced Dhoni strode out to the loud cheers of the sizeable Indian supporters at the stadium.
Acknowledging the need to get a hold of the required run-rate, Rahul went on the rampage and took full toll of Narine. The right-hander looted a massive six and a couple of serendipitous boundaries from the off-spinner's third over.
More agony was about to fall on skipper Brathwaite. Upon serving up length deliveries in an inexplicable manner, Russell conceded three sixes to bring the equation down to 33 off the final three overs. With Dhoni also joining in on the fun, India were looking favourites to sprint to the finish line. However, one man had other plans.
Bravo has the last laugh
By then, Bravo had become one of the most sought-after players in the shortest format. Even though his free-flowing batting could spell trouble for the opposition, his overall aura was accentuated by those ingenious variations in bowling as well as an innate sense of match awareness. The showstopper sent down a tidy over to keep the Indians at bay.
Although he could have relied on the remarkable accuracy of Samuel Badree, Brathwaite did not quite possess the nerve to put a leg-spinner in the firing line during such a tight situation. Instead, he allowed Russell to complete his full quota of four overs despite the all-rounder's inadequate performance earlier in the game.
Latching on to a wide delivery, Rahul unleashed a breath-taking six over third man and brought up the joint-second fastest century in T20I history. After reaching the landmark, he showed no signs of stopping down as yet another boundary ensured that India required only 8 runs from the last over.
When Marlon Samuels dropped one of the easiest chances in the first ball, it seemed like West Indies were shooting themselves down. But an unruffled Bravo speared one yorker after another and prevented the well-set batsmen from finding the boundary.
With the equation boiling down to two runs from the last delivery of the match, he showed his full repertoire by deceiving MS Dhoni with a slower ball. Unlike last time, Samuels managed to hang on to a high-pressure catch to set off vibrant Calypso-style celebrations from West Indies. A game, which had been dominated by batsmen from both camps, was ultimately settled by a bowler.
Having lost the match by the narrowest of margins, an exasperated KL Rahul had a forlorn look on his face. When he looks back at this game years from now, the dynamic batsman might remember his audacious stroke-play and reflect on the confidence derived from such a scintillating knock.