Rahul has started to get back into the groove. A serious contender for the World Cup side, he shouldn’t allow T20s to affect his game.
The build-up to IPL 2019 has been a little low-key. The auction was relatively low-profile and with the tournament only about three weeks away, all we have so far are a couple of promos from the official broadcaster—the Rishabh Pant-MS Dhoni challenge and the Jasprit Bumrah-Virat Kohli challenge.
This is understandable in a World Cup year. The quadrennial 50-over showpiece is the ‘holy grail’ for cricketers and fans with regards to limited-overs cricket. So IPL this time is basically an elongated filler between the ongoing limited-overs home series against Australia and the big event that commences on May 30. Kohli has already made it clear that IPL performances will have “no influence” on the World Cup team selection. The Indian cricket hierarchy is more concerned about managing the workload of the World Cup probables during the IPL and the cricket board might even issue a directive to the franchises in this regard. Of course, the IPL will account for a lot of column inches, media-wise, once it starts, but even T20 diehards will probably watch this edition of the T20 league through the World Cup prism.
It’s heartening that the Indian team has set its priorities right and the credit goes to the captain. On the eve of the first T20 international against Australia at Vizag, Kohli, in fact, had advised his teammates not to get into the “bad habits” that the IPL can create.
“All the people who are going to be part of the World Cup squad, they have to make sure that their games don’t go too much away from the one-day mould of things. That means we will have to be very wary of the bad habits that might creep in during IPL. We need 15 people who are confident and mentally happy about where their game is at that particular moment,” the skipper had said.
He added: “That will take a consistent effort from all the players during the IPL to keep a check on that. The moment we enter the nets and create bad habits, and you lose momentum, you lose batting form, it’s very difficult to get it back in a tournament like the World Cup. So from that point of view, everyone will have to protect that mindset and be aligned towards what the team requires of them.”
Cricketers at times fall prey to the demands of the shortest form, the innovations required, at the expense of their natural game. KL Rahul could be a case in point. He had a blazing IPL last year, where he ended up as the third-highest run-getter—659 runs from 14 matches at a strike-rate of 158.41. He thrived on a high percentage of aerial shots. But in the 11 Tests since, he has scored 447 runs at an average of 24.83, which is well below his career average of 35.27. Rahul played only three ODIs after last year’s IPL. There also, he struggled to get going, scoring just 69 runs. His defensive game apparently has become a little loose. Rahul has started to get back into the groove. A serious contender for the World Cup side, he shouldn’t allow T20s to affect his game. A World Cup in the UK will test the technique of top-order batsmen.
Kohli is refreshingly candid when he speaks about issues related to Indian cricket. His love for Test cricket, the purest format of the game, has trickled down to his teammates. Everybody in the Indian team, even kids like Shubman Gill, puts the longest form on a pedestal. As former South Africa captain Graeme Smith had said a few months back, “Kohli’s love for Test cricket will keep the format relevant”.
Coming back to the IPL, there’s a school of thought that the league has worked wonders in terms of throwing up new talent. Wrong. Of course, the IPL provides valuable experience to young players, as they rub shoulders with top international players and get accustomed to pressure situations. But the fact remains that the majority of Indian team players, including the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, are basically products of domestic first-class cricket.
From that perspective, Kohli’s comment was very important. The India captain actually spoke about accumulating the positives that the IPL offers without changing one’s game to make it IPL-specific. When a player develops a particular habit, it becomes very difficult to get rid of it. Shots that wow in T20 cricket usually look stupid in the longer formats.