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Is K.L. Rahul an obvious choice in the Indian T20I side?

Not only have K.L. Rahul’s numbers dipped, but new stars like Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan and Deepak Hooda have arrived on the scene, and Hardik Pandya has made a resounding comeback.

August 06, 2022 / 07:19 PM IST
At this point, K.L. Rahul seems set to return to the squad for the Asia Cup T20, scheduled to start later this month. (Image source: Twitter/klrahul)

At this point, K.L. Rahul seems set to return to the squad for the Asia Cup T20, scheduled to start later this month. (Image source: Twitter/klrahul)

Last year, Virat Kohli had stepped down as Indian captain in Twenty20 Internationals (T20I). Then, before the Test series in South Africa got underway, Indian selectors had replaced Kohli with Rohit Sharma at the helm in ODIs as well. However, Kohli had stayed put for Test matches, and led India to a win in the first Test match. Rohit had opted out of the tour with an injury. When Kohli missed the second Test – India’s first international match of 2022 – K.L. Rahul led India for the first time, and went on to lead them in the three ODIs as well. India lost all four matches in an otherwise forgettable tour.

Since that tour – it got over on January 23 – India have played three Test matches, nine ODIs, and 19 T20Is, a total of 31 matches. Rahul, since leading India, has played only once, an ODI against West Indies in Ahmedabad. A pulled hamstring, a groin injury that required surgery in Germany, COVID-19… everything seems to have been following him.

It is not just about this year either. The hamstring has been a persistent problem, but shoulder, thigh, and wrist injuries have forced him out of action as well. He has also gone down with dengue, viral fever, and appendicitis at the wrong time – all of this in a career that is not even eight years old.

At this point, Rahul seems set to return to the squad for the Asia Cup T20, set to start later this month. He is yet to play a T20I this year, but is still the de facto vice-captain of the Indian side across formats, and will lead India if Rohit misses a match for some reason.

That brings us to a crucial question: is Rahul an obvious choice in the Indian T20I side?
K.L. Rahul in T20 Internationals
YearMatchesRunsStrike rate
Until 2020451,542145

While Rahul’s career strike rate is still an impressive 142, the dip in 2021 and his absence in the format in 2022 do not make good reading. With a 1,000-run cut-off, Rahul had the best strike rate (145) among Indians in T20Is until 2020.

Not only have Rahul’s numbers dipped since then, but new stars like Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, and Deepak Hooda have arrived; Hardik Pandya has made a resounding comeback, first through Gujarat Titans in the Indian Premier League (IPL), then as captain of the international side.
Best strike rates for Indians in T20 Internationals
Until 2020 (1,000 runs)Since 2021 (250 runs)
BatterMatchesRunsStrike rateBatterMatchesRunsStrike rate
K.L. Rahul451,542145Suryakumar Yadav22648176
Rohit Sharma1082,773139Rohit Sharma23681144
Virat Kohli852,928138Shreyas Iyer21536139
Yuvraj Singh581,177136Hardik Pandya23418138
Suresh Raina781,605135Ishan Kishan18532133
Shikhar Dhawan641,669128Virat Kohli14380132
M.S. Dhoni981,617126K.L. Rahul11289131
Of course, one may cite the fact that Rahul has played only 11 times for India in the shortest format since 2021. The stint may be seen as a temporary bad patch. However, in the IPL, where the number of matches is significantly more, Rahul has gone slower over time.
K.L. Rahul in the IPL
YearMatchesRunsStrike rateStrike rate rank
2013520125Small sample
Until 201525328107
Since 2019562,505135

Rahul was unfortunate to miss the 2017 IPL – when he had peaked in the league – due to a shoulder injury. It did not affect his purple patch, for in 2018, he broke through to the top ten in terms of strike rate. Since then, he has scored 600 runs (never an easy landmark) in every season except that 593 in 2019, but he has never matched the rate at which he scored between 2016 and 2018.

While he did not have a great year for India in 2021, Rahul did do reasonably well in the IPL, scoring 626 runs at a decent 139. The strike rate was not phenomenal, but it was also an unusual edition. The league had to be split into two in the aftermath of the second wave of COVID-19 in India. In the second leg, in the UAE, the pitches were considerably slower, and run-scoring more difficult.

The next season was played entirely in India, and big hits and quick scoring resumed. Unfortunately, it was not a great year for Rahul. While 139 was enough to put him at 17th in 2021, he slipped to 52nd place in 2022 – his worst rank since 2015.

As mentioned, as vice-captain, Rahul is still an obvious pick in the T20 International side. However, given the depth of the Indian side – their reserve bench is often enough to win series away from home – time may be running out for him.
Abhishek Mukherjee is an independent sports writer. Views expressed are personal.
first published: Aug 6, 2022 07:02 pm
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