In the dressing room, Rohit Sharma had his head in his hands, along with a Hindi phrase that’s not too complimentary towards mothers and sisters. On the field, at the non-striker’s end, Virat Kohli‘s eyes got as wide with amazement as the distance between Lahore and Colombo.
Stepping out, KL Rahul had just shovelled a six off Shadab Khanover mid-wicket off the second ball of the 35th over.The stroke had power, oomph and precision. For its bottom-handedness, it was Dhoni-esque.
The Indian batter, who was pencilled in at the last minute for the Asia Cup Super-4 game vs Pakistan at the R Premadasa Stadium on Sunday, has been through a lot lately. He lost the vice-captaincy of the Test team, lost his spot as opener to Shubman Gill, then lost his place in the T20I team. And then, in the IPL, while playing for Lucknow Super Giants in April against Royal Challengers Bangalore, he busted the tendons in his legs while chasing a ball in the field.
His strike rate revealed an eerie obsession with the Orange Cap. His knock against Gujarat Titans at the Ekana this year, where his scored 68 off 61 balls, was criticised because he could not take his team over the line despite them needing 39 off 45 balls with nine wickets in hand.
His personal life and his marriage to a film star is also unfairly talked about when he does not do well. His fitness and frequent injuries are also questioned.
When Rahul was picked in the Asia Cup squad and also made the World Cup team, despite not playing competitively since April, many wondered why he should get such an easy entry back. Especially after he picked up a niggle leading into the Asia Cup. Monday, the reserve day of the game against Pakistan, showed why. Few have the versatility and range of shots that Rahul has while playing in the middle order, which makes him such an irresistible option. At No. 4, which is where he batted against Pakistan, his numbers are brilliant.
In 10 games, he has logged 352 runs with two hundreds. His numbers while batting at No. 5 are even better. In 18 matches, he has 742 runs with a ton and seven fifties. The team management knows what they are bargaining for when they are talking about Rahul the middle order batter in white-ball cricket.
The two pull shots that he played on Sunday for boundaries off Haris Rauf gave a good indication that his preparation leading into the game was first class as he was getting into good positions very early.
On Monday, his use of the batting crease against spin to hit good balls for boundaries caught the eye. As Pakistan employed the part-time off-spin services of Iftikhar Ahmed to fill in for the injured Rauf, Rahul used the cut and sweep to not allow him to settle. His slog sweep off the part-timer showed wonderful bat speed.
The fast hands were on display again when he essayed a violent cut that burst through Shadab Khan’s hands at point off Shaheen Shah Afridi. He also slapped Afridi over mid-off, which allowed him to overcome a late slowdown. As he realized he was running out of strength and stamina, he brought his T20 game out, with a paddle off the left-arm quick.
What would also delight the team management is Rahul’s fitness. If you are batting with Kohli, you know you would have to do a lot of running. Batting together with him for 194 balls, Rahul was involved in an unbeaten 233-run stand and both players scored 114 runs through boundaries. 119 were scored while running. If you ever wanted to test your hamstrings and quads, after busting them and recovering, Monday provided that opportunity.
Usually, after a three-figure score, Rahul makes a gesture where he shuts both his ears with his fingers with closed eyes. On Monday, he just stood there momentarily with his bat raised towards the sky.