For those cricket lovers who are always ready to dismiss Twenty20 format as an assault on their sensibilities, the Indian Premier League (IPL) game on Monday night could have come as a splendid riposte. It had all the ingredients that make any cricket contest worth staying up late to watch — it was attritional and, despite the dew, encouraged bowlers to challenge batsmen to rein in their minds.
KL Rahul and his century stand with Mayank Agarwal enabled Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) motor steadily to their destination — a seventh straight win in Mohali, this one over Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) on Monday. It was a night on which the pair brought maturity and tranquil to the batting crease in keeping with their growing stature in Indian cricket.
A greasy track demanded a Test match approach from the batsmen, unmindful of coloured clothing, white cricket ball, and gleaming floodlights. David Warner’s innings was evidence of such a need and Rahul had watched it from behind the wicket. There was no way he was going to leave the learnings of the first 20 overs in the dug-out when he changed to batting pads.
He did not start as well as he would have liked to, but with Mayank Agarwal taking charge of managing the scoring rate, he could play himself in. It is in not seeking to match his more expressive teammate that Rahul’s maturity helped Punjab. By not being stung by a desire to hurry things up, he showed that it is crucial to play one’s natural game.
For all you know, this innings could well become a reference point for him each time he has to settle down to the anchoring role. It was an object lesson in staying humble at the crease. It did not matter to him that his first boundary off Bhuvneshwar Kumar came in the fifth over and was not a convincing one. Yet, when he started playing his shots after the Powerplay, he was a treat to watch.
He lay back to punch Mohammad Nabi through the covers to show that he was ready to share the responsibility of scoring quickly. He then picked Siddarth Kaul’s fast-medium bowling to pick up a few boundaries, driving through the off-side and the pulling off the back foot before playing an inside-out shot over extra cover for six.
Rahul’s acute awareness of the ball behaviour — it was skidding off the track rather than gripping it, making it tough for batsmen to get their bats under the ball and give it the elevation to clear the fielders — was a trait that helped the team in the end. Not only did he not attempt to belt the ball over the ground, he also convinced Sam Curran to eschew the aerial route in the final over.
After all, a good batsman’s contribution goes beyond just the runs against his name. It is in sharing knowledge and in a concise, impactful manner, that the essence of teamwork is embodied. KXIP were fortunate that KL Rahul was able to do everything that was asked of him on Monday in a comfortable, mature manner.
These were built on the foundation of self-confidence and a deep sense that he could control the fate of the game. On Monday, Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) discovered that he could not be hurried into making a mistake as he exercised great control over his shot-selection. It was in achieving this level of control that Rahul will look back at this game with pride and joy.
Of course, the game was set up earlier by the KXIP bowlers who knew what they had to do to restrict SRH and did that extremely well in the first half of the game. The two Indian fast bowlers, Ankit Rajpoot and Mohammed Shami produced stuff that stopped David Warner from scoring freely even in Powerplay.
And, beyond a shadow of doubt, the dew factor was a big one during the last three-fourths of the game when the bowlers were severely challenged. It is in using an awareness of the impact of dew on the flow of the game that Kings XI Punjab skipper R Ashwin and his team-mates out-thought and out-performed the visiting side.
Yet, it needed a couple of calm heads to steer the Kings through their chase. And in Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul, the home side found just the right personnel to accomplish that task, picking the bowlers to target and punishing SRH for not having bowled Mohammad Nabi’s four overs early enough.
It needed Rahul to bring order to the chaos that threatened to consume Kings XI Punjab at a critical stage in the final overs when Mayank Agarwal, David Miller, and Mandeep Singh fell to catches in the deep when attempting the big shots to ease the pressure. And in doing that, Rahul did much more than just take his team over the finish line. He made a gentle statement about his abilities with the bat, possibly reminding the selectors to not reject his claims for a berth in the Indian team for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019. He also was letting his batsmanship show that there could be no substitute for those who play a cerebral game out in the middle, even in Twenty20 cricket.
That is saying something, isn’t it?