KL Rahul: The active middleman from India

It has always been more difficult to predict where KL Rahul will bat. And throughout the years, Indian cricket hasn't done a great job of responding. In the last four years, he has struggled at every batting position from No. 1-6 in the ODI format, which has been the most contentious. The Fortune Wheel is currently stuck at 5, and based on his 75 not out at the Wankhede Stadium, it will remain there till the World Cup later this year.

India haven't recently had the luxury of having someone come in at 16/3 on a seaming surface and play a match-winning innings. They have been defeated far too frequently by a bad day from their high-functioning top echelon. When Rahul's inclusion in the middle order, an India strategy that had been in the works for some time, paid off in the first ODI in Mumbai, the conditions were favorable for an encore.

For a change, India didn't try to brute force their way out of problems; instead, they had a middleman who could hold down the fort when the other team was in control and switch to fluency when the wind shifted. It makes sense that Rahul credited his success to "regular cricketing shots" since India hasn't had much luck lately. It would be asking a bit much for the influx of new batsmen entering the system—the Prithvi Shaws, Shubman Gills, and Ishan Kishans—to step up under pressure when a much more seasoned top-order has fallen short. They have all had little to no List-A experience of batting in the middle order.

Rahul, 30, is incredibly valued in that intermediate order because of this. He possesses a sound technique, system-related expertise, and most significantly, the motivation to bat when India needs him to.

The last time Australia played India, in 2020, it was for a three-match one-day international series. This is a great place to start to learn how India filled its middle order void and how long Rahul's journey has been. Take, for instance, the first ODI in that series. Rahul was just coming off a crucial century as an opener against the West Indies when he arrived in Mumbai. However, when the big series opener against Australia came around, Rahul saw himself moved down to No. 3 to accommodate fit Shikhar Dhawan. India's captain at the time, Virat Kohli, had to move down to allow Rahul to bat in the top order, which led to tough questions after India lost by 10 wickets. "I think I am allowed to experiment a bit," Kohli said after the loss, "people need not panic for just this one game."

Rahul batted at No. 5 in the subsequent match in Rajkot and scored 80 off 52 balls, which Kohli dubbed his "best at the international level." While filling in for Rishabh Pant, who was forced to leave the field due to a concussion, he made an impression not only with the bat but also with the gloves, taking two catches and causing a stumping.

That Rahul was back opening the innings in the third ODI in Bengaluru lets you know all that you require to be aware of his excursion. Although this was a last-minute substitution for Dhawan, who had injured his shoulder while fielding, Rahul has opened the batting on five other occasions since then. However, that multitude of occasions came when he was the substitute chief, driving the side in South Africa and Zimbabwe without any Rohit Sharma. Rahul was given back responsibility for the middle order once India returned to the familiar subcontinental climate, where the World Cup will be held.

Truth be told, Rahul had a hard time getting back to No. 5 after a long injury layoff. He was made vice-captain of India with the white ball, and Ishan Kishan, a left-handed wicketkeeper-batsman who also scored a double hundred in one-day internationals, put more and more pressure on him. However, Rahul was able to cement his place in the middle order with a solid 64* off 103 against Sri Lanka on a lively deck in Kolkata.

Rohit would say at the conclusion of the game, "KL at five gives us the depth, gives us the confidence at the top of the order to go and bat freely." Rahul, on the other hand, was simply taking pleasure in the middle order's slow pace of life. One thing I truly appreciate is that you don't need to rush once more into batting," he told Star Sports after that game dominating thump at the Eden Nurseries. " Before entering, you have time to unwind, take a refreshing shower, enjoy a satisfying meal, and then look around to see what's going on. The advantage of batting at No. 5 is that.

It is agreed that Rahul's growth story is unconventional. In white-ball cricket, moving down the order rarely results in success. Make use of the PowerPlay fielding restrictions and bat with a clearer head, especially in India, when you want to face the hard new ball. However, Rahul has thrived in a very different ecosystem: starting against spin, timing the old ball, and coping with the pressure of a close run chase or hitting big hits in the last few overs.

By the year 2023, Rahul will have played the most games at No. 5 and has the highest average and strike rate of any position he has batted at. He is clearly basking in the skill of "building an innings," which he had laboriously tried to learn by watching videos of Kane Williamson, Steve Smith, Virat Kohli, and AB de Villiers. He now returns to Visakhapatnam, where he helped India win a game and scored a century as an opener three years ago. This time, he will be supposed to do the equivalent however in the center request.

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