The debate over KL Rahul’s place in India's team stems from a lack of cricketing sense

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KL Rahul's match winning innings at Kolkatta's Eden Gardens should be enough to silence critics

KL Rahul’s match-winning knock (64*) at Eden Gardens in Kolkata in the second ODI against Sri Lanka last week should ideally be enough to silence his critics who question his place in the Indian team. They often talk about strike rate and stir a hornet’s nest, but there is more to cricket than strike rate.

Given Rahul’s elegance and class, many top international teams would want to have him as their opening batter. In India, for silly reasons, there is an unnecessary debate over Rahul’s place in the national side.

Against Sri Lanka in Kolkata, Rahul showcased his class and skill set yet again. Through his wonderful match-winning unbeaten 64-run knock off 103 balls, the right-handed batter telegraphed an important message that excessive obsession with strike rates in ODI cricket can prove counterproductive.

Team India were not chasing a big target at Eden Gardens. In pursuit of 216 runs, a target considered a cakewalk in the modern era, India’s top-four batters - Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, and Shreyas Iyer - were back in the pavilion with the scoreboard reading 86.

Game awareness

Had Rahul chased swinging deliveries and been bothered about the so-called strike rate, India could have easily lost the match. Situational awareness is what separates Rahul from the crowd.

Not only did he assess the conditions, but he also showed respect for the moving ball. He exhibited patience and waited for a loose delivery to score runs. At times, when one is not playing on flat decks, one's technique is tested. This is where Rahul ticks another important box. He is one of India’s technically well-equipped batters.

Another trait not talked about enough in modern-day cricket is temperament. Rahul is a batter who also wears a thinking cap.

With great skill, the 30-year-old stitched together a crucial 75-run partnership with flamboyant all-rounder Hardik Pandya, taking India’s score to 161 from 86-4. Any other flashy batter would have tried too many different things and gifted his wicket away in the process, bringing more trouble for the team.

What Rahul did instead was stay at the crease to guide the chase home for his team. Even after Hardik's dismissal in a moment of brain fade, Rahul stayed calm and composed.

Axar Patel played a cameo and headed to the dugout soon after. Rahul was still there at the crease until he ensured victory for his team in Kuldeep Yadav’s company.

At times, people underplay the importance of low-scoring affairs and match-winning knocks under a pressure cooker situation against a moving ball. Rahul's innings of 64 in a winning cause should be hailed and not criticized for a low strike rate.

Technique and temperament

Rahul’s calming demeanor, robust technique, temperament, game awareness, and willingness to shut critics down are important tools for a reputed international cricketer. He does not listen to armchair analysts or commentators who make a mountain out of a molehill and endlessly instigate debates around strike rates.

Yes, strike rates are important. But the habit of winning games is more important. In 50 overs, the batters have 300 balls to negotiate. One can stay at the crease and pick and choose the bowlers to target. But if one only worries about strike rate, he/she will end up playing ODI cricket much like a T20 game, and perhaps the team will get bowled out before the full quota of overs is bowled.

A quick glance at Rahul’s ODI career - 1870 runs - studded with five centuries and 12 fifties, in 48 innings at a healthy average of 44.52 and a strike rate in excess of 87 shouldn't initiate conversations about his place in India's 50-over side.

Another key element about Rahul’s batting is that out of his five ODI centuries, three have come away from home. He has scored ODI tons against New Zealand at Mount Maunganui, Sri Lanka at Leeds, and Zimbabwe in Harare. The other two centuries have been scored in Pune and Visakhapatnam against England and West Indies, respectively.

Out of his 12 ODI fifties, Rahul has scored more than half of them away from home - in Hamilton, Birmingham, Manchester, Sydney, Paarl, Harare, and Dubai. He is someone who scores runs without going for the glory shots. He puts his head down to win games.

In Tests too, Rahul is put under undue scrutiny more often than not. The guy has seven centuries in the red-ball format. These centuries include the ones scored against Australia in Sydney, South Africa in Centurion, England at The Oval and Lord’s, West Indies in Kingston, and Sri Lanka in Colombo.

Rahul also has two centuries in T20Is, one each against England in Manchester and the West Indies in Lauderhill. The stylish batter has scored 2265 runs, decorated with two tons and 22 fifties, at a decent strike rate of about 140 and an average of 38.

What is the fuss about then? With 14 centuries and 47 fifties across formats, the Bangalore-born batter has collected nearly 7,000 international runs since making his international debut in 2014.

Rahul is not a flat-track bully! He is a match-winner for all seasons and in all conditions.

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Edited by Samya Majumdar
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