His sudden promotion has put KL Rahul in uncharted territory. On Monday, the BCCI’s Twitter handle posted a picture of the 29-year-old addressing a team huddle. Virat Kohli, a member of the group, was listening with intent. Rahul’s body language was quite assertive. When Rahul led India in the second Test against South Africa, after back spasms had ruled Kohli out, he looked cagey, especially during the hosts’ run-chase in the fourth innings. But when he came for the press conference on the eve of the ODI series, he showed quiet confidence.
Rahul’s tacit approach is the exact opposite of Kohli’s high-octane style, but he isn’t a pushover either. When reminded about his ordinary record as captain in the Indian Premier League and the Test defeat at the Wanderers, Rahul’s reply had a cheeky dig. “Thanks for the stats, man. It gives me a lot of confidence.” He spoke about learning on the job. “I will make mistakes along the way. But I will learn and I will get better. That’s where my mind is at. This one-day series is a fresh start again, a new opportunity and a great opportunity to captain my country.”
Those who have covered Indian cricket for long enough will find a throwback, when Rahul Dravid took over the captaincy from the gung-ho Sourav Ganguly. Suddenly press conferences became matter-of-fact, troubling headline writers. This is not Rahul’s full-time initiation, but if morning shows the day, his style would be akin to his more illustrious namesake, who is now the head coach of the Indian team.
💬 💬 I’ve learnt a lot from @msdhoni and @imVkohli. @klrahul11 on his learnings from MS Dhoni & Virat Kohli and leading #TeamIndia in the ODI series against South Africa. 👍#SAvIND pic.twitter.com/1mPm2jKDUB
— BCCI (@BCCI) January 18, 2022
Expectedly, there were some nerves, when Rahul said by mistake that India were “unfortunate to lose at Centurion” instead of Wanderers. “We did have a great chance at Centurion to win the Test match. It was a bit unfortunate and I did feel there were a lot of learnings.” He stressed upon staying balanced. “I take every game as it comes. (I’m) not someone who really gets worried or gets too happy. I stay balanced with the results.” He also spoke about carrying forward his learnings from MS Dhoni and Kohli, two “two great captains”.
First things first
Limited-overs cricket, however, doesn’t have the ebb and flow of the long form and a captain’s role in the white-ball varieties is somewhat limited. Rahul the batsman will be more important than Rahul the skipper in the three ODIs and in Rohit Sharma’s absence, he will bat up the order. “Obviously, in the last 14-15 months I have batted at No. 5, No. 4, different positions. That’s what the team needed of me then. But now with Rohit not being here, I will bat at the top of the order,” he said.
Rahul dropped a hint that India might go with two spinners in the first ODI, for the Boland Park pitch in Paarl is expected to assist tweakers. “We practised for a couple of days at Boland Park and the pitch does look like it might offer a lot more for spinners than what we got in the Test series. We have quality spinners… (Ravichandran) Ashwin’s coming back into the one-day team and we all know what quality he brings in, and (Yuzvendra) Chahal has been a great performer for us. So yeah, if there’s any assistance from the pitch, I know, these two will really exploit it.”
— BCCI (@BCCI) January 18, 2022
If Ashwin presents a comeback story – returning to the ODI fold after four-and-a-half years – Venkatesh Iyer’s been a case of a player’s meteoric rise, on the back of his performance for Kolkata Knight Riders in half-an-IPL. The next 50-over World Cup is in 2023, but India will play this ODI series with an eye to the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year. From that perspective, the team management is backing Iyer to grow in his job as a seam-bowling all-rounder.
“Yes, fast-bowling all-rounders are always an asset. They balance the team out. So very excited about Venkatesh Iyer; he is really looking good at the nets and it’s a great opportunity for him,” said Rahul.
A lot has changed for the stand-in skipper over the last six months, from returning to the Test team to leading India on an overseas assignment. “The only difference, I think, is I have been spoken about a lot more. A lot has been written about me,” Rahul was tongue-in-cheek again.