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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Competitors turn collaborators: KL Rahul & Rishabh Pant work together in irresistible fashion

Rahul & Pant have often seemed vying for the same spot in ODIs, but show they can work together in irresistible fashion.

Written by Sandip G |
Updated: March 27, 2021 2:24:18 pm
ind vs engKL Rahul (108) and Rishabh Pant (77) in the middle for India during the 2nd ODI vs England (BCCI)

With a hundred that was as much silk as it was steel, KL Rahul ended a barren phase in international cricket. With a half-century that was as much flash as it was flamboyance, Rishabh Pant re-established his stock in ODI cricket. Rahul, stroking 108 from 114 balls, built a sturdy foundation. Pant, shellacking 77 off 40, hurriedly piled on the storeys as India posted 336/6.

Both their worlds blended in imperceptibly, which had seemed distant in recent times. Even antithetical. Their paths seemed drifting apart. Pant, for all his red-ball exploits, had failed to nail down his spot in the 50-over format. Rahul, despite his travails in Test and T20Is, had been consistently insuperable in ODIs, wherein he had been keeping wickets too. In that sense, they were pitted as direct competitors, pulled away from playing together by circumstances.

READ | KL Rahul slays demons from T20I series with first century of ODI series

Brought together by fate

In an ideal world, Rahul could have opened, but Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have shown no signs of disuniting yet. He could not be slotted in as a pure middle-order batsman, as there already were the irreplaceable Virat Kohli and the blossoming Shreyas Iyer, followed by the all-rounders. So the only way he could be slotted in was as a ’keeper, which could have been Pant’s position but for his own failures to crack the ODI code. So much so that if the left-hander was to make a comeback, Rahul seemed the likeliest expendable. More so, given his wretched form in recent times. It’s a credit to the team management that they persisted with both. Sheer talent, after all, has a seductive pull.

But their worlds met again when Iyer was injured. Rahul was restored as a specialist batsman, and Pant returned to the format he hadn’t quite cracked after 15 months. The fusion of two irresistible talents was brilliant as much as it was brutal. Rahul was Rolls Royce to Pant’s Ferrari. Rahul glided forth, Pant blitzed forth. Rahul melts your heart, Pant make it beat faster. The thrills they provide are different but equally compelling.

KL Rahul celebrates his century during India’s second ODI against England. (BCCI)

Old-school batting

If ODI knocks have begun to resemble T20 ones of late, Rahul’s was a throwback effort, when he constructed his innings brick by brick, eschewing risk and fetching boundaries only when opportunities begged him to do so. He smuggled singles and twos, while hitting the occasional boundary, especially when the bowlers over-pitched. He drove gorgeously, through cover as well as down the ground.

Rahul could read the mind of a bowler and get into positions early. Kohli, at the other end, was equally watchful on a surface that was holding up a bit when the spinners bowled. Rashid and his off-spinning colleague Moeen Ali probed tight lengths to keep them on a leash. Kohli and Rahul, throughout their 121-run association, were didn’t embrace unnecessary risk either, but at the same time managed to keep the score ticking along.

Even in the final stages of his innings, Rahul was risk-averse. Such is his repertoire that he needn’t wink in low-percentage strokes. Instead, he unfurled one glorious stroke after another, the best being a six over extra-cover off Tom Curran.

READ | ‘Dead ball’ clause of DRS under scrutiny after Pant denied four runs

By that time, Pant had freewheeled to a half-century himself off only 28 balls. He doesn’t bother much about sophistry or splendour. He just sees gaps. When the ball is in his slot, fullish on middle and leg, it is invariably fleeced. Even if it’s not in his zone, it’s still thundered, as England’s bowlers realised. Pant is in unstoppable form, as he keeps ticking one box after another, just as he keeps flaying one ball after another for boundaries. He struck seven thunderous sixes —each a guillotine blow, some just one-handed, some just power. By now, runs were gushing forth like a wild torrent, the alliance between Pant and Rahul amounting to 113 in 13.4 overs.

It was an ODI script as it was always meant to be written —accumulation and controlled aggression in the first 35 overs (173/3), and helter-skelter run-making in the last 15 (163/3). India have the right men for both phases.

It’s unclear whether one of them would make way for Iyer when he returns, but they established their worth through their own different but inimitable styles. Rahul made a strong case as a specialist batsman (a ’keeper in contingency at best) while Pant illustrated that he’s too irresistible a talent, going through an irresistible phase, to be kept away from any form of the game. Their worlds, after all, can coexist. Beautifully.

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