Not very long ago, MS Dhoni was all over the news for the reasons he would have wanted to avoid. The former India skipper faced widespread criticism for his uncharacteristic innings in the T20 International against New Zealand. The likes of VVS Laxman, Ajit Agarkar had even gone on to say that the World Cup-winning skipper should make way for youngsters in the shortest format of the game. But during all those tough times, MS Dhoni constantly received praise from his teammates including skipper Virat Kohli as well as head coach Ravi Shastri and the latest to join the bandwagon is KL Rahul.
But unlike the previous instances of others throwing their support behind an under-fire Dhoni, Rahul did the same after his senior teammate once again proved his critics wrong with a sublime performance in the first T20I against Sri Lanka on Wednesday (December 20). MS Dhoni came at the crease following the end of a promising fifty-plus stand between Rahul and Shreyas Iyer and soon found himself under further pressure when Rahul departed too. The scoreboard was reading a modest 114 for three at the end of the 15th over before Dhoni decided to take things into his own hands. The right-handed batsman scored a vital unbeaten 39 off just 22 balls including a last-ball six and was well supported by Manish Pandey as India posted a commanding 180. The score turned out to be more than enough in the end with the visitors being folded up for a paltry 87.
Speaking after the match, Rahul threw his support behind the veteran batsman.
“I think he is in great shape, he almost killed me as soon as he came into bat,” Rahul chuckled while referring to the powerful shot down the ground from Dhoni that almost hit him. “I don’t know what form you are talking about but every time I switch on the TV or every time I have played with him, he always seems to get the runs. The last time we were here in Cuttack, he got a massive hundred against England and he has been contributing really well in every game.
“He is somebody we all look up to, he is somebody who is a match-winner and he will always be one,” added Rahul who scored 61.
Just like Dhoni, the innings was crucial for KL Rahul too. The Karnataka star has lost his starting place in both ODIs as well as Tests and needed to make the chance count at any cost.
“Every innings is important and with the kind of competition that is in the team, whatever opportunities you get, you need to go out there and make it count, try to do your best and that’s what I did. I tried to keep things simple and I’m very glad that it came off today,” he said.
Rahul was not the best of players in the T20 format in his initial days. However, things changed since his breakthrough season in the Indian Premier League last season during which he scored over 300 runs. It was followed by a sublime century against West Indies, and he has not looked back since then.
Speaking about the remarkable turnaround, he said:
“It took me a long time to realise that I need to stay true to my game. The times I’ve been successful is when I have kept things simple, when I’ve played cricketing shots that I believe I’ve been blessed with or good at playing.
“It did take me a long time but once I realised that with my game I can still be successful in T20 cricket. I think every player needs one or two innings to get that confidence in whatever format he is playing to realise that he is good enough to be successful in whatever condition or whatever format he is playing. Once I got that going, I worked harder and tried to be more consistent. I think that’s the key for a player to realise what his best game is to be successful in whatever format,” he added.
Rahul went on to admit that it isn’t easy for a middle-order batsman to come in straight away and start scoring runs in the ODIs. In recent times, India’s top three have been scoring the bulk of the runs in the 50-over format while the fragile middle-order has failed to live up to the expectations.
“It’s not a bad thing that the top three is scoring runs for any team but yes I think in the last three or four series, the middle order and the lower order have also contributed a lot and that’s why I think we have been successful and winning so consistently,” Rahul said. “For a middle-order batsman, when he walks in, it’s not the easiest, you need to get on with the game as soon as you can. You need to maintain a certain strike rate so it can’t be easy but that’s how the sport is, it’s not easy for anybody batting anywhere.
“Once, you get a couple of good knocks in whatever position you are playing and if you are in good form, then you just continue that. Each player comes to a realisation on what is best for him and what is the best way for him to be successful and once they get that, then it’s only upwards,” added Rahul who was tried at the number four position in Sri Lanka.
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