Explained: How KL Rahul shut out the noise and owns the orange cap

Like most classy batsmen, the Punjab Kings captain has been able to iron out a flaw, pace his innings better and come back stronger.

What was special about KL Rahul’s 91 against Bangalore?

The way he recalibrated according to the demand of the match situation. Normally, batsmen either settle in and go for a flurry of shots where they are almost unstoppable. Rahul had to stop-start a few times in the game. He started off in a flurry but paused when Chris Gayle started to bash it around. He then joined in the hitting but when four wickets fell in a flash, he went silent again. There were no boundaries from the 12th over for six overs but he didn’t panic. There must have been apprehension whether he was settling for a lesser target but once Harpreet Brar kick-started the mayhem in the 18th over, Rahul took over, slamming 24 runs off his last seven balls.

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He didn’t have a great time pre-IPL against England until the luck turned near the end of that series, isn’t it?

Yes, and he did speak about the pressure. “I won’t lie; it does get to you. It’s hard sometimes like the last series when I wasn’t getting runs,” he told the podcast Decoding Athletes. You shift your focus back to what you have been doing well all your life and that’s what got you so far.”

Has he been out of form before and how did he change it?

2019 was particularly bad when he was dropped from the Indian team. “It was the most negative or useless I have been ever in my life. There was a lot of fake sympathy thrown at me and I didn’t feel I wanted that in my life … I didn’t know when I would be playing for my country again, will I get back my position?” he said in a Red Bull show. He trained with his friend and former Karnataka player David Mathias.

Mathias’s diagnosis was clear: “He was having a few issues with the incoming ball and a few issues with his head falling over. I felt that his bat was really away from his body.”

Rahul felt that he was, “trying to hit it too hard. My intent has become that”. Both worked to iron out all the flaws, checking old videos when things were right. “Magic doesn’t happen overnight. We worked hours and hours together.”

Was there a moment of concern in the knock against Bangalore?

Not really, but there was this one delivery that brought back Mathias’ concerns to the mind. The impressive left-arm seamer Daniel Sams got the ball to bend back in with the new ball and Rahul just about managed to hold his bat in line and stab it off the inner edge. Both the concerns of Mathias’s – the incoming ball and bat away from the body – was addressed in that little moment.

What was his best shot against Bangalore?

Amidst the montage of big hits – those sixes over cover and paddle-scoops, there was a highly skilful late-cut off Yuzvinder Chahal in the 9th over. He was standing just outside leg stump, crouching, and waiting. He barely moved a muscle until the legbreak landed on a good length around the middle stump. Even then, there wasn’t much movement from Rahul, who kept staying low and held his bat up – delaying his shot. As the ball ripped towards the off stump, the bat started to come down. But the best part was about to come. A short third man and backward point were in place and he had to splice the gap. Having waited long enough, he snapped his wrists at the impact point, slicing the ball furiously to give power and direction to find the gap between those two men.

Has captaincy reflected in his batting?

For the last two IPLs, he hasn’t started as explosively as he previously used to do. More circumspect at the start, more focus to bat at least 10 overs. A bit more like Shikhar Dhawan, so to say; interestingly in the last two IPLs, Dhawan has started to go the other way – more aggressive at the start.

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