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In absence of Dhoni & Pandya, KL Rahul acing finisher's role

In absence of Dhoni & Pandya, KL Rahul acing finisher's role
In absence of Dhoni & Pandya, KL Rahul acing finisher's role
©REUTERS
 

KL Rahul scored a century against New Zealand batting at No. 5 at the Bay Oval.

Big deal? Yes.

The last time an Indian player batting at No. 5 or below scored a century in New Zealand, it was Suresh Raina who did it against Zimbabwe in Auckland at the 2015 ODI World Cup. And the one before that? No, there wasn't anyone before him. So, essentially, Rahul on Tuesday, became only the second Indian batsman to achieve this feat.

More so, his 112-run knock, was the first ODI hundred by an Indian player batting at No. 5 or below since MS Dhoni's 134 against England at Cuttack in January 2017. Remember the Yuvi 150 match?

In fact, this was only the second time that an Indian wicket-keeper scored an ODI century outside Asia. The first being Rahul Dravid's 145 against Sri Lanka at Taunton, way back in 1999.

Taking to No.5 like a fish to water

Rahul has been public about the fact that he has always opened the batting for Karnataka and in age-group cricket and that is the place he is the most comfortable at. However, once he was slotted at No. 5, after Rishab Pant suffered a concussion mid-match in the Mumbai ODI against Australia, he has churned out scores of 47, 80, 19, 88*, 4 and 112 in six consecutive innings, averaging an imperious 70.00.

Rahul now sports his best average at No. 5, even better than his opening average of 50.50.

Not only does he put a price on his wickets, Rahul has this knock of stringing partnerships. His back-to-back 100-run stands with Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey in the 3rd ODI was the first time since November 2009 that India put on 100+ partnerships for both the fourth and fifth wicket in the same ODI.

Admirable adaptability

"Rahul is very open to playing anywhere because he is a proper batsman who can do you good in any format and at any position in the game. So I think lack of clarity in terms of positions has really hurt us in the past. Now that we understand that this feels right, we will go ahead with that for a while and figure out if this is the right thing to do or not. You can chop and change immediately and create confusion among the group. I don't see any reason why we should change this balance. It has done well for the team and we will continue with the same for a while," Kohli's statement in the pre-series press conference against New Zealand led to a few eyebrows being raised, but the move has certainly paid off.

What has made Rahul click at No. 5 is his adaptability. There are times when the No. 5 batsman has to hit from ball one and at other times, when the chips are down, the onus of rebuilding is also upon him. The fact that Rahul does not have an apparent weakness against any style of bowling is helping him is this role.

The stylish right-hander has the ability to take one of the quickest international bowlers, Mitchell Starc, for boundaries all around the park. At the same time, he can also loft a top white-ball spinner, Mitchell Santner, on a consistent basis.

With five fielders allowed outside the 30-yard circle in the last 10 overs, the power game is not only always the best way to go now as there is a huge risk of getting holed out to one of long-off, long-on, mid-wicket or square leg, who are almost always stationed at the boundary. Hence, his potential to find gaps and play the field makes Rahul a great exponent of finishing games with the bat.

Possessing the finisher's game

MS Dhoni played the finisher's role for India in white-ball cricket for the longest time and did it with amazing success. When his prowess began to wane, Hardik Pandya came to the fore and delivered a few times.

In the absence of these players, India was really struggling to close out games, especially when chasing big targets. The KXIP captain's versatility provides the team an opportunity to either go hard or play the waiting game, which serves the team well both while batting first and chasing. If Team India persists with Rahul in the finisher's role, he will surprise many in the times to come.

©Cricket World 2020