Rahul adds a new dimension

Rahul adds a new dimension

Batsman has changed his game to fit into the T20 mould

Rahul adds a new dimension

The close crop has been replaced by long mane. Neatly maintained stubbles have made way for thick beard and tattoos of all hues and themes are more prominent than ever before. KL Rahul’s “boy-next-door” image slowly but surely has given way to a new-age youngster who doesn’t shy away from wearing his attitude on his sleeves.

It’s not just in appearance that the change is obvious, even his batting seems to have acquired a few more dimensions. Though Rahul had shown glimpses of his ability to fit into the definition of a T20 batsman, for long he was caught in an image trap – that he needs to spend time to build an innings, that he can’t manufacture big shots when needed and that if he is not opening the innings when there are field restrictions then he has no place in the side.

These impressions were backed by statistical facts as well. Before the start of this Indian Premier League season, the right-hander had scored just 328 runs in 25 matches at a strike rate of 107.18 since 2013 and after a modest outing in 2015 (142 runs in nine matches at a strike rate of just under 113), Sunrisers Hyderabad released him from their roster. When the Hyderabad side had bought him for Rs 1 crore in 2014, he had managed a mere 166 runs in 11 appearances while striking at 101.21.

Even when Royal Challengers Bangalore began their campaign this season, Rahul didn’t have a place in the 11 with Chris Gayle donning the opener’s role. It wasn’t until Gayle went on a short paternity leave that Rahul got a look in against Mumbai as opener-wicketkeeper.

Two matches later he was left out against Gujarat Lions and Kedar Jadhav was brought back as the wicketkeeper. But as fate would have it, Mandeep Singh got injured during warm-up after the toss and Rahul got a lucky break. He didn’t open the innings but that was a blessing in disguise.

Rahul came in at the fall of AB de Villiers at 59 for two after 7.4 overs and went on to produce an unbeaten 35-ball 51, his first IPL half-century. This innings proved beyond any doubt that he is no one-dimensional player.

There were phases during this innings where he even outscored and outhit his in-form skipper Virat Kohli. Having secured his position with this sparkling knock, Rahul was back in his favoured slot at the top of the order against Sunrisers Hyderabad here on Saturday and the 24-year-old proved that his innings against Lions was no flash in the pan as he brought up another 51 in just 28 balls to provide the right momentum for RCB in their big chase.

“I have been hitting the ball very well in the nets,” Rahul said, talking about his batting.

“Even in the practice games in Bengaluru I was looking good, I was striking the ball well.

The coaches and the captain were very happy with the way I was batting. It was just about time and opportunity and it came in the game against Gujarat Lions and I capitalised,” he pointed out.

The Mangalore-born batsman, however, said he would have been happier if the team had won those two matches. “I am very happy with the way I am batting but it’s unfortunate that both my fifties haven’t come in a winning cause. So I guess I need to work a little harder and see how I can get those 20-30 extra runs once I get my fifty that could help my team see a victory.”

It’s not quite the transformation but a normal progression of a hard-working batsman. His senior State-mate and former India captain Rahul Dravid’s words ring a bell here -- “if you are a good Test batsman, you can be good in any format.”