Watched videos of Smith, ABD, Williamson: KL Rahul on middle-order role

Batting at number five, Rahul conjured up a 52-ball 80 as India beat Australia by 36 runs to level the three-match series in Rajkot on Friday.

K.L. Rahul plays a shot en route to his half-century.   -  VIJAY SONEJI

Seldom would a cricketer experience as many challenges on the field as K.L. Rahul has over the last six months. From losing his place in the Test squad to being shuffled around the batting order in white-ball formats to being the stand-in wicketkeeper, Rahul has been finding ways to combat various situations he was thrown into.

On Friday, he was handed yet another new role: to keep wickets in the absence of Rishabh Pant and bat at No. 5 in India’s must-win ODI versus Australia. And Rahul got the job done as nonchalantly as his more famous namesake from Karnataka, Rahul Dravid, would do during his heyday. He first ensured India didn’t collapse like it did in Mumbai three days earlier and then unleashed himself on the Aussie pacers. The result was his 52-ball 80 which propelled India to 340 for six.

In the last couple of years, with Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan on song, Rahul realised that he had to create a niche for himself in the middle order in ODIs. After his consummate knock at the SCA Stadium, the articulate batsman explained he adopted watch-and-improve approach to enhance his skills in the middle order.

“I don’t think technically I’ve practised anything different. I just spoke a lot more to middle-order batsmen and watched a lot of videos. I spoke a lot to Virat (Kohli) and watched a lot of videos of AB (de Villiers) or Steve Smith for that matter and how they build their innings. Kane Williamson is somebody I’ve tried to go back and watch some of his videos and see how they build their innings and how they play in certain situations,” Rahul said.

“The only thing I’m trying to learn is how I can use my game and be better at a certain situation and reading of the game’s gotten a lot better for me now that I’ve played in different positions and batting becomes a lot more enjoyable.”

His batting rubbed on to his skillset with the other pair of gloves during Australia’s chase. Having been a ’keeper during his formative years, Rahul is no stranger to donning gloves behind the wickets. He has also kept wickets in the Indian Premier League. His presence behind the wickets on Friday was far from that of a stand-in ’keeper. Not only did he keep a clean slate in terms of byes but also effected a brilliant stumping to dismiss Australia captain Aaron Finch.

Aaron Finch being stumped by K.L. Rahul during the second ODI in Rajkot.   -  PTI

“We have seen for guys who are regular keepers, Jasprit (Bumrah) is still a nightmare to keep (to), but I am enjoying it,” he said. “Even for me sometimes I couldn’t pick Kuldeep (Yadav) and (Ravindra) Jadeja at the pace he bowls is just pretty difficult, it’s not what I get in my first-class team. I don’t have any answers or new answers, I’m just enjoying what’s thrown at me and trying to do the best I can.”

India will be hoping that Rahul’s razzmatazz continues come Sunday in Bengaluru, his hometown.

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