KL Rahul © BCCI
KL Rahul © BCCI

0,2,0,6,4,4,6,4,1,4,6,6,4,4,W summed up KL Rahul’s innings for Punjab on Sunday. In process he brought up the fastest fifty in Indian T20 League history, off just 14 balls. Rewind to 2013, Rahul’s first season in the tournament, and one would pass off the idea as a joke if told Rahul would hold this record some day.

Rahul hails from Karnataka. He grew up idolising Rahul Dravid. Namesakes, the remarkable orthodoxy, being a part-time wicketkeeper, and the tag of ‘next Dravid’ stuck. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane had already been through that. A batsman of traditional mould, it came no surprise when he topped charts in First-Class cricket to be pushed into Test ranks.

For all the toil in First-Class cricket, he suffered moments of ‘brain-fade’, in the land of Steven Smith, on his Test debut when he fell for 3 and 1, perishing to rash, unneeded strokes in both innings of the 2014 Boxing Day Test.

Rahul wasn’t considered highly in limited-overs cricket at that point. His Indian T20 League record read 186 runs from 16 matches at 18.6 and his strike rate was 103. It baffled one and all that why he went for those ugly aerial hoicks so early on his Test debut.

Doubts hovered if he would play another Test. He did, the next one, at Sydney, and delighted all with a stroke-filled hundred.

Fastest Fifties in Indian T20 League

Batsman Balls Match
KL Rahul 14 Punjab vs Delhi, 2018
Sunil Narine 15 Kolkata vs Bangalore, 2017
Yusuf Pathan 15 Kolkata vs Hyderabad, 2014
Suresh Raina 16 Chennai vs Punjab, 2014

Rahul turned up for Hyderabad in the Indian T20 League in 2015. He got 9 matches and scored 142 runs at 28.4. The strike rate was passable 113. He was yet to get past fifty in three seasons. He displayed an array of classical strokes and could rotate the strike but seldom found the ropes at will.

A few months later he was out of the Test side. He had scored 2 hundreds from 5 Tests but the other 8 innings all ended up in single-digit scores, pulling his average down to the mid-20s. At 23, you can still introspect and improve.

In 2015-16 he had a disappointing Vijay Hazare Trophy, scoring 158 runs at 31 and at a strike rate of 62. Who would have thought that the Indian blue jersey was months away? Virat Kohli surprised all by drafting him into the Bangalore camp in the Indian T20 League 2016.

Two days after turning 24, Rahul walked out to open with Kohli for Bangalore, against Mumbai, at Wankhede Stadium. He replaced Chris Gayle. He fitted into the rock-star mould of Bangalore. The school-boyish looks had given away to a cricketing Khal Drogo. Long hair, beard, tattoos and muscles were un-Rahul, but the transition was seamless.

Rahul stroked a 14-ball 23 and that changed things. He batted with same class, orthodoxy but found the ropes at will…

He finished with 397 runs at 44.11 that season. His strike rate read 147. Bangalore finished runners-up. From a Test specialist Rahul found himself in the ODI squad for Zimbabwe where he would go on to slam a hundred on his ODI debut.

Two months later Rahul blasted an unbelievable T20I hundred, almost helping India chase down 245 against West Indies. He has been a regular name in Indian squads across formats and has often been shuffled up and down in the order. And he has found a new foe in injuries.

He displayed rich form in the home T20Is against Sri Lanka last year but could not find a place in the XI in South Africa. Good forms of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan at the top order and India’s persistence with Manish Pandey in the middle order, made Rahul’s appearances in the XI sporadic. Again, injuries did not help.

When you are out of sight, your past laurels begin dissolving in the fading memories. Punjab emptied a whopping INR 11 crores from their pocket to bag Rahul’s services. This is Rahul’s opportunity to elevate to the superlative category. This is his chance and he definitely has proved a point.

“For years, I have been branded a Test cricketer. It’s good for me to be up there, creating history and breaking records. Hope to continue this way,” Rahul said after being adjudged Player of the Match in Punjab’s first game, against Delhi.

Rahul was severe on Trent Boult and Amit Mishra, two quality bowlers, and his antics at the top helped Punjab to an easy win. Keeping wickets for the Punjab franchise, Rahul has no looming threat for his place in this side. A pressure-free Rahul looks all set to own the 2018 edition.