Kannur Lokesh Rahul or KL Rahul, as he is more colloquially known as, currently seems like the number one choice for Virat Kohli and his white-ball Indian team. A couple of years back, people weren’t even aware of his ability behind the stumps and all of a sudden he is the first choice for the national cricket team. But is it a short-term solution or one which can be a game-changer in the long term?
There are no doubts about KL Rahul’s ability with the bat in limited-overs cricket and his numbers will tell you that in the matches where he has donned the gloves, his batting has actually excelled. The sample size is small of only 12 international matches but if you look at the recently concluded Indian T20 League, Lokesh Rahul was outstanding while donning three hats; captain, premier batsman and a wicket-keeper. He ended the tournament as the highest run-getter and the added responsibility didn’t hamper his game.
In the 12 international matches he has started as a designated keeper for Team India, Rahul averages 61.50 and has managed to score a century as well against New Zealand away from home. All these 12 games, seven in One-Day Internationals and five in T20 Internationals have come in this calendar year. It seems like if you have Rahul in your name, you will be forced to keep wickets in Indian cricket irrespective if you want to do that job or not. But keeping the numbers aside, is it a good idea for India to bank on Rahul to be their number one keeper till the 2023 Cricket World Cup? Let’s dig a little deeper on the same.
Ravi Shashtri and the management will boast the aforementioned stats and will call this a masterstroke. Rahul has managed to keep wickets like a proper wicketkeeper while maintaining his brilliant white-ball form. He adds solidity in the middle-order and can be a lethal finisher as well if required. If India is rocked early by wickets with the new ball then the accomplished batsman in KL Rahul can come out and take his time to score big.
The move of handing the gloves to Rahul was a forced one for Virat Kohli as he replaced Rishabh Pant in the middle of the match who suffered a concussion after being hit on the head while batting. He did a fine job as a makeshift keeper and since then he was handed the responsibility on a permanent basis. With the T20 World Cup right around the corner, Rahul offers an elixir that can help end India’s troubles in ICC tournaments.
KL Rahul is taller than a usual keeper and believe it or not it has an impact on the technique of the keeper. By forcing him to keep wickets, Rahul has been forced to bat down the order at number five and his impact on the top of the order is taken away. There’s no doubt that after Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul is the next best limited-overs batsman for India. The role of the opener is different as compared to a middle-order batsman and more often than not Rahul wouldn’t have the time to construct his innings the way he would ideally want to.
By excluding players like Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson or Ishan Kishan, who are explosive batsmen and proper wicketkeepers, you lose that X-factor player who could single-handedly change the match situation. If you take the first two ODIs against Australia for example, India were chasing massive totals of above 370 on both occasions. You needed a batsman in the middle order who could strike at a rate of 150 above and Rahul was unable to do that for the team.
There are both pros and cons of this move. ii comes down to the management to weigh these and then stick to their decision on a long term plan if India wants to do well in the upcoming ICC tournaments.