Doubts, ridicule, pressure to deliver finally fuel KL Rahul's fire

It took the former Indian vice-captain, a multi-tasker in ODIs, a real show of character to hit the Asia Cup century on comeback

KL Rahul on course to his sixth one-day century in Colombo on Monday (Photo: Twitter/BCCI)
KL Rahul on course to his sixth one-day century in Colombo on Monday (Photo: Twitter/BCCI)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

A familiar gesture from KL Rahul, on reaching a batting landmark, had been putting fingers on his ears with eyes closed to show that he preferred to shut the noise and let his bat do the talking. On Monday in Colombo, he raised his bat towards the skies instead after signalling his comeback with a classy century – possibly thanking the superpowers for standing by him. 

To say that the senior Indian pro answered the critics will be an understatement. An ongoing saga of injury, rehab, question marks and then a KL or Ishan Kishan debate – stoked by the media – must not have made his life easy. What’s more, there was an element of providence playing it’s part as Rahul’s name was initially 13th in the team list provided to the umpires ahead of their Super Four game against Pakistan on Sunday. 

It was at the toss that captain Rohit Sharma said Rahul is coming in at the eleventh hour as Shreyas Iyer – also coming back after a serious slipped disc problem – had a back spasm and was unavailable for the game. It was a pity that Rahul, considered as a heir apparent to the legacy of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma and a future captain in all formats not so long ago, had to step in as a contingency measure. 

However, given the avalanche of criticism over him being in the contingent to Sri Lanka despite carrying a ‘niggle’ after coming out of a lay-off anyway, Rahul needed gametime in the middle.  Iyer’s ‘back spasm’ paved the way for the stylish Karnataka batter and to fall back on a cliché, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.  

‘’Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise…You are everything, I love you,’’ wrote wife and actor Athiya Shetty in an emotional post on her Instagram handle. The near and dear ones of Rahul had good enough reasons to let off some steam after what he had been going through – thanks to a litany of injuries and the occasional poor form. 

Just ponder on this, in a period of nearly two years since November, 2021, Rahul has been sidelined with as many as seven injuries of varying nature - from ham string, groin, thigh strain to even wrist. His off-and-on appearances in a batting line-up where there are very certainties except Kohli and Rohit Sharma, Rahul lost the vice-captaincy of the Test team, lost his opener’s spot to Shubman Gill and finally lost his place in the T20 team.

In the last IPL season where he picked up the thigh injury which sidelined him for over four months, Rahul continued to be a treat for the eyes with the bat before that – but his strike rate was pilloried all around. Redemption finally came in the shape of an innings of 111 off 106 balls against a quality Pakistan attack, with 12 delectable hits to the fence and two sixes on a surface which slowed down after the rains. 

Rahul’s innings is certainly going to bring back the smiles on Sharma’s face and ease the frown in head coach Rahul Dravid’s demeanour at the question of who would bat at No.4 spot in the World Cup. The conundrum is sorted for good as the 50-overs format gives Rahul the time to get into his groove while he can also anchor the innings in case of early loss of openers. 

Given his track record of being susceptible to injuries, one has to wait and watch to see if he can also multi-task in the wicketkeeper’s role. But then, that’s a discussion for another day.  

Timeline of Rahul’s injuries 

November 2021, Thigh strain: KL Rahul was ruled out of the two-match Test series against New Zealand in November due to a left thigh strain. 

February 2021, Hamstring:  Rahul missed the T20 series against West Indies after suffering a left hamstring injury. 

February 2021, Hamstring: He failed to recover in time and missed the T20 against Sri Lanka. 

March 2021, Hamstring: The hamstring injury also ruled him out of the Test series against Sri Lanka. 

January 2021, Wrist: Missed the Test series in Australia after suffering a wrist injury during practice. 

June 2022, Groin: Missed the South Africa series and England tour with a persistent groin injury. 

May 2023 , Thigh: Rahul missed IPL 2023, World Test Championship Final 2023 and India tour of West Indies after suffering an injury on May 1. 

August 2023: He faced a setback in recovery and failed a fitness test, but still makes it to the Asia Cup 2023 squad.  

September 2023: Returns to playing XI in the Asia Cup Super 4 clash. 

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Published: 12 Sep 2023, 4:07 PM