Kolkata, Jan 13 (SocialNews.XYZ) After taking India to a tense four-wicket victory over Sri Lanka through a match-winning unbeaten 64, K.L. Rahul stated that the dual role of keeping wickets and batting at No. 5 in the ODIs has helped him understand his game a little better.
Chasing 216, India were in a precarious situation at 86/4. That's when Rahul came in and stepped up in an under-pressure situation to take India over the line to secure an unassailable 2-0 series lead.
In his 64 not out at Kolkata, Rahul played out 60 dot balls and hit six fours, while taking 34 singles and three twos. It was a knock in which Rahul had to be cautious and then open up with a calm head to chase down the target with 40 balls to spare.
"Obviously, I've done this for a couple of years now. From the end of 2019, throughout 2020 and a few games in 2021, I did this role of batting in the middle-order. It's not something that's new. The team has given me time to settle into this position and role.
"When you have the backing of your captain and coach, it helps you focus and bring your 100 per cent concentration, which is what the team is expecting and what they want you to do. Yes, it's different to what I do in other formats, but that keeps me on my toes, keeps me challenged -- a different role helps me understand my game a little better," he said in the post-match press conference.
In 15 innings at number five, Rahul, once seen as a backup opener, now averages 54.25 and has a strike rate of 102.23 and reminding everyone of what he brings to the table in Kolkata, through his 64 not out, apart from his tidy keeping behind the wickets, something which he admitted has demanded lot of hard work behind the scenes.
"I've to work slightly differently when it comes to batting in the middle order. Wicket-keeping and batting can be slightly more taxing on the body because I have not done it for too long, I've done it on and off in white ball cricket.
"That's the tough part. But since I know this is what is required from me, I try to manage my body and work that much more harder on my fitness. A little bit of work on my wicket-keeping and a lot of work on batting in the middle-order and batting against spin," he added.
Rahul and Hardik Pandya had to weather the early storm and then cash on the loose balls from the Sri Lankan bowlers to stitch a crucial 75-run partnership off 119 balls. While Hardik fell, Rahul marched forward to stitch stands of 30 and 28 not out with Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav.
Over the years since his ODI debut in 2016, Rahul has donned many roles - opening the batting, slotted in the middle-order and being the keeper as well. Asked to reflect on his ODI career till now, Rahul felt that his being tried in various positions and scenarios shows that the think tank trusted him to deliver for the side.
"Any role that helps win matches for my team and country is what satisfies me the most wherever I bat. Firstly, I want to be in the playing XI, that's the most important thing. What the team requires me to do, I try to do that. I've done that throughout the time I played for India."
"I remember the first Test I batted, I batted at number six. Then I opened. Then I was number six at the 2019 (ODI) World Cup. Then after an injury to Shikhar (Dhawan), I had to go back to open again. I've played at number five, I've played at number four, I've been asked to keep wickets. I think it is very fun for me.
I have thrived on performing in tough conditions and under pressure. It tells me that the team trusts me and backs me. It has helped me understand my batting and myself better. When you decide to choose a team game as a sport or profession, you have to be ready or flexible to do whatever job you're asked to do."
Despite all the fluctuations, Rahul insists that it has been enjoyable for him to counter various challenges and then emerge triumphant in ODIs.
"I've been all over, I've been asked to keep wickets. It's been fun for me. I've really enjoyed being thrown with different challenges. I've really thrived on performing in tough conditions and being put under pressure.
"That only tells me that the team really trusts me and backs me, under Virat and Rohit. I've really enjoyed doing that. It helped me understand myself, my game, and my batting better. How I'm under pressure when taken out of my comfort zone."