World Cup 2019: KL Rahul's personal journey is a remarkable saga of grit and determination
Yes, Rohit Sharma has most certainly been the best batsman in World Cup 2019 and has rightfully grabbed all the headlines. On a record-breaking spree and in the form of his life, Sharma notched up an astounding fifth century in this edition of the Cup as India romped home to a seven-wicket victory against the hapless Sri Lankans in what was another dominant show by the Men in Blue.
In terms of form, class and numbers as well, Sharma has been head and shoulders above the rest in England and Wales. He has not always been chanceless and has often had to grind out his runs, but he has ridden his luck like the maestro he was always destined to be.
But the beauty of this sport, or any for that matter, are the circumstances, often non-sporting, that make certain performances stand out because of the context. KL Rahul's journey in the Cup so far, is one such remarkable saga, quite in contrast to Sharma's glorious journey.
In deep sea
For a while, it had seemed that the lanky batsman's fledgling career has been dealt a catastrophic blow because of events outside of the game. Yes, am talking about the infamous coffee show that ensured Rahul and buddy Hardik Pandya get the most severe backlash in their young lives so far.
There was severe condemnation from all quarters for their comments on the show that led to punishments from the BCCI. While Pandya was supposed to have gone home and locked himself up in his room post the fiasco, little was known of how Rahul reacted to the storm that had suddenly engulfed his career.
Pandya and Rahul were blasted by all and sundry for revealing the darker side of this young, confident and talented Indian team that came across as arrogant and immature in an unseemly manner. It was as if they had the world at their feet at a young age and did not know how to treat it.
To be fair to Rahul, most of those controversial comments had been made by Pandya while he had been caught up in the crossfire.It is a testament to his spirit that he came back in impressive fashion at the Indian Premier League; resounding evidence of his ability to take setbacks in his stride and evolve for the better. But the real test was still awaiting him.
Into the Cup
Rahul was drafted into the side, not as an opener but as someone who filled up the No.4 slot that had been giving the Indians sleepless nights for a while. His brisk century against Bangladesh in a warm-up game secured his position in the final 11.
However, things were to change dramatically for the Karnataka batsman. In top form and fresh off a century, Shikhar Dhawan was suddenly ruled out of the tournament due to a freak injury. Suddenly, Rahul, in personal doldrums earlier in the year, was being asked to fill huge shoes at the very top of the order. Could he deliver?
Rahul's big examination was in the crunch match against Pakistan. Here was someone still not certain in the team, full of potential that's still unfulfilled, facing a fearsome pace attack of India's eternal rivals in a packed house at Old Trafford.
Yes, he scratched around a bit early on, but, most importantly did not lose his wicket in the most crucial phase of the match. In the process, Rahul played a perfect second fiddle to Rohit to score 57, as India romped home.
Make no mistake, Rahul was not striking the ball as cleanly or as fluently as Rohit even as he began getting starts and putting on good first-wicket partnerships with The Hitman.
Yes, there were flashes of brilliance with his signature cover drives, but there were moments of grinding it out a well, many moments.
His 92-ball 77 against Bangladesh was one such characteristic knock that helped him gain much-needed confidence after a duck against England.
On Saturday, Rahul will finally feel that his evolution as a batsman, and as a human being, has come to fruition. As India crushed Sri Lanka after yet-another all-round performance and Rohit hit another ton, Rahul finally bloomed on the biggest stage, notching up his maiden World Cup century. He also top scored for the Indians in a fluent, determined and charismatic innings.
Rahul was not a certainty in the team or certain of his position in the batting order coming into the Cup; he was coming off the back of a huge controversy and suddenly thrust into the opener's slot.
For many experts, Rahul has had to battle more internal demons than external ones to arrive where he has right now. There have never been any issues with his talent but many with his confidence. He has settled those issues for now.
Rahul's journey has possibly made him more contemplative about the vagaries of life in the limelight. Like others such as David Warner who have also had setbacks and come back stronger in this tournament, he has learnt from his time in the sidelines and come back a better version of himself, delivering under pressure and when the team needed him the most.
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