Fans howled in laughter as meme-makers had a field day following KL Rahul's muted celebration with his eyes closed, in a "cut the noise" pose after scoring his first home ODI century in Visakhapatnam against the Windies. The batsman had endured a lot of criticism till that stage, with a lot of talk over his appearance in a controversial television chat-show, as well as inconsistent performances in Test cricket.
There were many who believed that the 27-year-old's career was certainly on the decline, with a few critics further labeling him as a flashy player who had lost sight of his goals and objectives. Those relatively in favour of him wondered about his position in the team, considering the presence of the likes of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan at the top of the order. They further highlighted the massive competition in the middle order slots, eventually resigning themselves to watching him in a stop-gap arrangement.
However, what one could never have accounted for was the sheer hunger and desire which Rahul backed by skipper Virat Kohli, possessed to make a mark for himself in Indian cricket. The batsman decided to take full advantage of any opportunity provided to him at any position at domestic level or in the Indian team, without any preferences or biases in mind. Rahul never let his confidence take a hit despite being forced to sit out for the home series against South Africa in September 2019 in favour of Shikhar Dhawan, despite delivering reasonable performances in the ICC World Cup.
The 27-year-old delivered a fantastic show in the Vijay Hazare Trophy with an average in excess of 65, helping Karnataka reach the final on the back of quality performances. Rahul further followed it up with an exemplary show in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, forcing the selectors to take note of him. An opportunity soon followed following an injury to Shikhar Dhawan ahead of the West Indies series, which the batsman made full use of to his credit.
Rahul smashed an extraordinary 91 in the do-or-die final clash of the T20I series, before following it up with clinical knocks in the ODI clashes. The batsman smashed an excellent century in Visakhapatnam before stepping up under pressure, in the third and final ODI of the series chipping in with a vital 77.
Not content with this, he registered sublime performances in the recent T20I series against Sri Lanka finishing amongst the highest run-getters. However, there were questions over Rahul's position in the side, in case of the availability of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan with an important ODI series against Australia coming up. The 27-year-old saw himself dropped to the number five position in the second ODI of the series in Rajkot, with Rohit and Shikhar given the opener's slot.
However, Rahul gave the world a sign of his prowess at any position whatsoever smashing 80 off 52 deliveries in an innings comprising of six boundaries and three sixes. The batsman's knock helped India post a formidable total of 340, in a do or die clash.
This innings will certainly increase the focus around Rahul's performances as a man, who will excel at any position in the top or middle order as per the requirements of the team. His stats in ODIs certainly back this claim.
The 27-year-old cricketer has scored 593 runs in 13 innings at a strike rate of 79.59, average of 53.90 as an opener, with his highest score being 111.
Rahul has further scored 77 runs in just 3 innings at the number-three position with a strike rate of 78.57 and average of 25.66.
His numbers at the number-four slot read 52 runs in four innings at a strike rate of 60.46 and average of 17.33.
On a concluding note, Rahul has scored 98 runs in three innings when sent in at number five or below, which opens up a lot of options for Team India considering the upcoming World T20 in Australia.
Number 5 and Later
The batsman will certainly be a reliable option down the order alongside all-rounder Hardik Pandya, with the duo enjoying an ability to change gears as and when needed. Rahul's presence at number five will provide an opportunity to select both Shikhar and Rohit at the top of the order, while at the same time ensuring efficiency in the key moments which can change the game. It is certainly a blessing for Team India to enjoy his services, considering Rahul's capabilities, versatility and prowess.