One doubts if KL Rahul has read Mark Twain's travel critique Innocents Abroad. Had he done so, he would certainly view a visit to foreign lands with a certain level of disdain, for Mark Twain's wit and bitterness came through glaringly in the travel book based on his exhaustive voyage abroad.
But unlike Twain, who wrote of one of the sojourns, "I had nothing to do but listen to the pattering of the fountains and take medicine and throw it up again. It was dangerous recreation, but it was pleasanter than travelling in Syria," Rahul has taken to foreign shores like a duck to water.
The young Rahul is yet to play a single international game on Indian soil, but has cut his teeth on the varied and more challenging overseas locales, with his latest foray a T20 century (110 no off 51 balls, 12x4, 5x6) against West Indies in Florida, coming on heels of his three Test and one ODI tons.
Remarkably, Rahul, who many cricketing pundits reckoned was a classical opening batsman, with batting technique and style suited to the longer versions of the game, notched up the second fasted T20I century of all time. His 46-ball landmark effort fell tantalisingly short of South African Richard Levi's epic 45-ball record set against New Zealand in 2012.
Additionally, the innings also revealed that there was more to Rahul than the one-dimensional batsman he was perceived to be. Last season, on Test debut against Australia at Melbourne, when he was dismissed attempting a hook shot at the start of the innings, not many looked upon such an approach too kindly. However, his skipper knew that there was more to him than that adventurous stroke and persisted in playing him in the next Test too.
Rahul, probably chastened but certainly more determined and focused, grabbed the lifeline with both hands to prove his mettle on the big stage. He battled it out long and hard against the rampaging Australians after losing fellow opener Murali Vijay for a duck. The most telling part was the 141-run third wicket partnership with skipper Virat Kohli that ensured the Aussies would not have sufficient time to clear the stage for a victory. Rahul's excellent, patient 262-ball, 356-minute century was instrumental in seeing through some trying times at the Sydney Cricket Ground and helping avert the follow-on.
Compared to that tough ton, his subsequent Test centuries against Sri Lanka in Colombo and West Indies in Jamaica, were a walk in the park.
Probably because of his first two Test centuries, Rahul's image of being a red-ball, traditional style batsman gained acceptance. So much so that he was dropped from the playing XI by the Royal Challengers Bangalore for their IPL match against Gujarat Lions earlier this year. But a freak injury to Mandeep Singh after the toss saw Rahul being reinstated.
The axing and subsequent fortuitous inclusion probably set him mentally free of the shackles imposed on being looked upon as a Test batsman and he came up with a refreshingly different approach to T20 cricket. He blasted away with a 35-ball 51 in trying conditions and from that moment on, there was no looking back.
He was smart, intelligent, and significantly, had the talent and hunger to absorb the requisites of all three formats of the game. The selectors acknowledged that he had the skill to excel in the shorter format of the game too by picking him for ODIs. His century on ODI debut against Zimbabwe at Harare vindicated that faith.
Now with this T20 century in Florida, Rahul has shown that he has the rare ability to adapt to the contrasting demands of the various formats of the game; he is as comfortable shouldering arms to the new ball in Test cricket as he is in chasing and flaying at it in limited overs cricket. The mindset, approach, footwork and wielding the bat close to the body or throwing it at the wide delivery is so vastly different that very few opening batsmen in cricketing history have successfully bridged it.
Part of the reason for Rahul's success probably lies in his willingness to live in the moment. Earlier in the tour, the BCCI had to order him to take down his social media posting showing him relaxing on a West Indies beach with a beer in hand. His constant experiments with tattoos and hairstyle — the latest being a Rastafarian braid and dreadlock style — too is probably Rahul's way of switching off from the pressures of the game and destressing.
The bottom line is that his off-field relaxation methods are working gloriously for him and as long as he keeps piling on those runs across formats, Indian cricket should have nothing to complain about this latest poster boy of the game.