In this World Cup, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to dub KL Rahulas the DRS maestro and christen it the ‘Decision Rahul System’.Throughout the tournament, the Indian wicket-keeper thwarted enthusiastic bowlers or captains from signaling a ‘T’ to the umpire on at least five occasions.Amidst the various dynamics of the tournament, Rahul has emerged as a crucial component. While Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Mohammed Shami showcase brilliance, Rahul, with his 386 runs at a nearly 99 strike-rate and a 77 average, operates discreetly, providing the essential calming influence every team requires.
Rahul’s cricketing persona is intriguing—a masterstroke when in full flow, yet occasionally lackluster; composed when in form, yet prepared for a disheveled stroke now and then. For close to a decade, he has been an enigma in Indian cricket, despite boasting Test centuries in Sydney, Lord’s and Centurion. Despite his talent matching that of Rohit or Kohli, Rahul has faced periods of self-doubt, interspersed between moments of brilliance.
In this World Cup, Rahul has become a symbol of assurance. His contribution goes beyond runs and dismissals; it extends to crucial catches like the one against Devon Conway in the semi-final, a moment that would have surely pleased Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
With 16 dismissals in 10 games (15 catches and 1 stumping), Rahul ranks second only to Quinton de Kock, a specialist ‘keeper. Remarkably, considering he wasn’t a regular ‘keeper until a few years ago, his performance has been phenomenal. Additionally, Rahul’s judgment of DRS calls stands out, attributed to his impeccable footwork behind the stumps, as noted by former India keeper Deep Dasgupta.
“DRS is not just a wicketkeeper’s call only. The wicketkeeper can neither gauge the impact nor the height. The impact (whether pitched within stumps) is generally a bowler’s call or the skipper standing at mid-on or mid-off.
“The guy stationed adjacent to square leg umpire needs to check the height while the ‘keeper with his movement would get an idea where the ball finishes,” Dasgupta explained the whole process.
Despite appearances, Rohit may not seem as process-oriented as Kohli, especially in the realm of DRS calls.
Rahul’s influence behind the stumps has been instrumental, dissuading bowlers with his precise understanding of where the ball is likely to conclude.
While Dhoni was renowned for making accurate DRS calls, Dasgupta provided an intriguing perspective on the legendary Indian skipper’s consistently high percentage of correct decisions.
“If you check the numbers, most of Dhoni’s DRS calls have gone with Umpires’ Call. So when India didn’t get a decision, they at least kept the review. There would never be any outrageous calls. Same with Rahul. He is someone who could temper an enthusiastic bowler’s expectations,” Dasgupta.
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Rahul’s proficiency behind the stumps rivals that of any other, and his technique of allowing the ball to “literally melt” into his gloves is a delight for cricket enthusiasts.
Impressively, despite not regularly keeping to Kuldeep Yadav, Rahul demonstrates remarkable skill in reading the left-arm wrist spinner’s deliveries, seamlessly adjusting his footwork.
Dasgupta, functioning as a broadcaster, had the opportunity to engage with Rahul. He observed that mentally Rahul approaches the game with the mindset of a wicketkeeper, and this mental shift has significantly elevated his keeping abilities.
“He told me during one of the interactions that he doesn’t see himself as a part-time keeper and looks at himself as a keeper-batter,” Dasgupta said.
The intriguing transformation in mindset has proven to be a pivotal factor.
From an external perspective, Rahul is perceived as a specialist batter who takes on the additional role of keeping. This dual role provides him with a buffer in the eyes of fans; even if he makes a mistake, the perception battle is in his favour. Fans tend to be more forgiving compared to a scenario where a specialist ‘keeper like Ishan Kishan commits a similar error.
Undoubtedly, Rahul has become the custodian of India’s fortunes, donning the responsibilities of both a batter and a wicketkeeper.