IPL 2023, K.L. Rahul's dilemma: Team first or strike rate?

Social media remained divided over K.L. Rahul, with some lauding Rahul for being among the runs again and others turning the heat on him for the strike rate

K.L. Rahul caught on the horns of a dilemma? (Source: BCCI)
K.L. Rahul caught on the horns of a dilemma? (Source: BCCI)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It’s not easy being in K.L. Rahul’s shoes these days. The day the Lucknow Super Giants (LSG) skipper ended his lean run in IPL 2023 with a patient half-century, not to mention reaching the 4,000-run landmark in the Indian Premier League, he still had to finish on the losing side against the Punjab Kings.

Coming on the back of scores of 8, 20 and 18, Rahul’s innings of 74 off 56 balls on a two-paced wicket at the newly built Ekna Stadium clearly placed a premium on the team cause. While most of his teammates found it difficult to get away the spinners' deliveries, the senior pro summoned all his experience to take the LSG to what seemed a par score on the track—but lost the close match.

Social media was divided, with one camp lauding Rahul for being among the runs again, and the other turning the heat on him for the strike rate.

Here is a particularly damning opinion from Twitter: "KL Rahul gets to 4000 IPL runs. Roughly 3000 of them have been scored at a strike-rate that hurt his team more than benefitted them."

How valid is such a remark against Rahul, who had been going through a rough patch in international cricket in recent times? Barely a month back, the Karnataka star had been stripped of his vice-captaincy in the Test side. He even lost his place in the playing XI, before coming back strongly with a resolute 75 to help India get off to a winning start in the ODI series against Australia at home.

Granted that his poor run in the longer format was a matter of concern, something which had former Indian seamer Venkatesh Prasad tearing into him too. The emergence of the likes of Shubman Gill meant that Rahul would have to vacate his place for the time being, but is there a perception war that he seems to be fighting on a regular basis?

The IPL highlights this like never before. His falling strike rate, especially with the team chasing, has frequently come up for discussion in recent years. In a period of three years from 2016 to 2018, the graceful batter struck a 153.71 in the IPL, but the figure has dropped to 134-ish since then. Interestingly, Rahul’s batting average in the intervening period has risen from 45.91 to 55.67—possibly a result of him sacrificing flair for consistency.   

Is Rahul, a multiple-time winner of the Orange Cap, losing steam in the IPL, or is it the burden of captaining an underperforming team (the Punjab Kings) that has taken a toll on his strike rate? The scenario has not changed overmuch with his new franchise, the LSG: despite some decent names on paper, the batting line-up revolves around their skipper.

Rahul, for his part, has a different take on the issue of strike rates—he feels they are overrated. Speaking at his the launch of his team’s new kit on the eve of the season, Rahul reiterated: “I’ve said it before, I think [strike rate] is over-rated.

"You need to also look at the context of the game; if you’re chasing 140, there is no need for you to score at a 200 strike rate. There are players in the team that we will encourage to play their natural game and there will be certain players that will have to take the responsibility of seeing the team through. It’s based on that particular day and particular situation and what the two batsmen in the middle and what the team overall feels like is [sic] the best way to play."

A valid point, that. There will be batters with distinctive styles and not all of them can aspire to be a Chris Gayle or an A.B. de Villiers. Given his seniority as a batter these days, Rahul—much like Virat Kohli—should play the cog in the wheel rather than try to emulate Marcus Stoinis.

An interesting debate could be on the cards.

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