He has a T20I career average of 43 with a strike rate of 146 and an ODI average of a tad less than 40. Yet KL Rahul hasn't been the most fortunate of Indian cricketers to have locked his spot in the limited-overs cricket. In the 55 matches he has batted across the two formats, Rahul was largely used as a reserve option coming in place of injured or rested first-choice players besides floating in the batting lineup. And amid these difficulties came a troublesome 2019 that found himself at the wrong end of a controversy he was dragged into, lost his place in the Test squad, but as December approached, Rahul embraced a new-found direction to prove his worth and spot in the Indian lineup for World T20 2020.
Crawling into 2019 on the back of a poor campaign in Test cricket, Rahul faced an unfortunate suspension from BCCI for controversy on a television chat show where was dragged into. The suspension left him out of the entire limited-overs tour of New Zealand that he was slated to be part of. But he returned back strong scoring 50 and 47 at home against Australia and emerged as India's highest run-getter in the two-match series. He followed it up with yet another stunning season in IPL, scoring 593 runs in 14 matches at 53.90, the second-most in the tournament. His tally included six half-centuries and one century.
His starry return earned him a spot in India's World Cup 2019 squad and amid all controversy surrounding the No.4 spot it was Rahul who was given the responsibility to end the conundrum. However, he batted only once at No.4 before opening the innings in successive matches owing to Shikhar Dhawan's injury. He lived up to the expectation scoring a century and two fifties to emerge as India's third-highest run-getter in the tournament after Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.
With Dhawan's return for the Windies tour, Rahul once again lost his spot in the ODIs and played only one T20I match scoring 20 runs. And things went downhill thereafter. Returning to Test cricket with a new technique, Rahul endured a poor campaign scoring only 101 runs in four innings. Following the tour, Rahul was axed and India handed the opening responsibility to Rohit.
Rahul went back to domestic cricket and scored 598 runs in 11 innings at 66.44 an average in the Vijay Hazare Trophy for Karnataka with five half-centuries and a hundred. He was the joint-highest scorer in the tournament en route to Karnataka's win.
Rahul returned to the international forum after Vijay Hazare for the T20I series against Bangladesh where he had filled in place of rested Kohli. Batting at No.3, Rahul scored a crucial half-century in the decider in Nagpur to help India win the series. However, his series tally of 75 runs was not considered noteworthy.
He once again returned to domestic cricket and played part in the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament for Karnataka scoring 313 runs in eight in eight innings at 52.16 and a strike-rate of 155.72. And these back-to-back domestic tournaments helepoed Rahul resurface and gain confidence for the opener against West Indies in Hyderabad where he scored an impressive half-century in India's highest successful run chase in T20I cricket. Roped in in place of an injured Dhawan, Rahul scored a 40-ball 62 to lay the foundation of India's massive run chase under the glimmering Hyderabad floodlights.
“Playing Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy helped a lot. Doesn’t matter how many hours you spend in the nets, winning games gives me the most confidence. I did that with Karnataka, and I’m happy to do it with India. It’s good that I can carry my confidence across tournaments,” Rahul said after India’s six-wicket win.
A look at the target of 208 on the giant screen implied India required just that perfect start to realise the run chase. But an early dismissal of in-form Rohit put India behind in the contest. What troubled the hosts more was that Kohli struggled at the other end of the crease hence creating a rather unnatural scenario for the home crowd. The skipper managed three runs off the first eight balls before bringing it to a run-a-ball 20 when India required a run rate of more than 12. He also mistimed a lot of shots, struck boundaries of edges and looked more at air-borne shots. Yet, India did not lose a wicket and remained in contention for a possible victory courtesy Rahul.
After recovering from a genuine run-out chance in the very first over, Rahul tore apart Jason Holder in the second over scoring three boundaries off the all-rounder. He also held strong against the short-pitched deliveries that were thrown at a lot great pace from Windies attack. While Rohit and Kohli both struggled against the variety, Rahul whacked Sheldon Cottrell for a top-edge six over fine leg and one past point off Kesrick Williams. And against the length ball coming onto the stumps, Rahul played the shots close to his body and met the ball under his eyes. He remained cautious against the constantly changed line, length and pace from the Windies attack that harmed most Indian top-order batters on Friday. Against the spinners who tried to go full against India, Rahul slogged swept Khary Pierre over deep square leg for six and cut one elegantly down to the third-man fence against Hayden Walsh.
“Everyone likes me when I score runs. In T20Is, I honestly don’t plan my innings according to strike-rate, especially batting second,” he said. “It depends more on the target. The first few balls, I’d still like to make use of the wicket. It’s important to lay a solid foundation as an opener, because there are power hitters in the back end. I want to do better in the next couple of games.”
"It's (T20 Wolrd Cup) a long way honestly. I have got the opportunity to bat top of the order again after a couple of series, so looking forward to just making the best use of it," Rahul said at the post-match press conference. "Today was a good outing, good hit in the middle and hopefully I can continue the same thing without worrying about October next year. There are a lot of games before that."
Eventually, Rahul had reached his fifty and Kohli by then had rediscovered his touch. Following his dismissal, Kohli played the role of the aggressor scoring 74 runs off the last 30 balls to guide India to a win in the opener.