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IPL 2020: KL Rahul proves he is India’s best T20 batsman with a ton for the ages

When KL Rahul hit his first boundary of the evening in Dubai, he overtook Sachin Tendulkar as the fastest Indian to reach 2000 runs in the IPL. By the time he was done – 20 further boundaries later – he’d had the kind of record-breaking evening the Master Blaster was accustomed to when batting in the UAE.

Rahul’s unbeaten 132 became the highest score by any Indian in the IPL; it became the highest score by any captain in the IPL; it became the fourth-highest score by anyone in the IPL (and the highest since AB de Villiers’ 133* against Mumbai Indians in 2015).

Eventually, Rahul’s total alone would prove too much for his opponents – chasing Kings XI Punjab’s 206/3, Royal Challengers Bangalore were bowled out for 109.

As a single performance, it was a masterclass in how to build an innings in this format. As an indicator of the performer’s pedigree, it was further evidence that Rahul is, presently, India’s best top-order batsman in T20s – and, as you will be pointed to a little below, among the absolute best in the world.

Let’s start with the knock itself, and how it met every analyst’s dream construction manual.

Rahul started steadily, taking no risks in the Powerplay to score 23 off 18 balls – two crisp punches through the off-side enough to signal he was ‘in’ – as KXIP reached a solid 50/0 in six overs.

KL Rahul paced his innings beautifully, starting steadily before launching a memorable onslaught in the death overs. Image courtesy: Saikat Das / Sportzpics for BCCI

KL Rahul paced his innings beautifully, starting steadily before launching a memorable onslaught in the death overs. Image courtesy: Saikat Das / Sportzpics for BCCI

There were no risks involved through the middle overs either, but just capitalising on errors – a free-hit into the stands, and a fair few tickles and glances to generous offerings on the pads – he was able to add 47 runs from 31 balls between overs 7-15. Impressively, only six of these 31 deliveries were dots. Punjab were 126/2 heading into the business end.

The first of the five death overs was a sedate affair, as Rahul saw Glenn Maxwell gift his wicket to Shivam Dube, two overs after Nicholas Pooran had done the same. Two singles of two balls, and he moved on to 72 off 51 with Punjab at 132/3 in 16 overs.

What followed was the most beautifully belligerent batting you’re going to see outside of AB de Villiers in this tournament. Rahul blasted 60 off the last 18 balls he faced, laced with six maximums.

Yes, the offerings now were rather friendly (more on that later on) – as was his captain from international cricket, dropping two easy catches. But it’s one thing to be handed chances, and another to do something with it.

Even after the second of Kohli’s shockers, Rahul was on 90 off 60 balls and his team was 157/3 in 18.

49 came off the last two overs – 42 of those runs hit from one blade, in nine balls.

6-4-0-6-6-4-4-6-6. This was Dre-Russ-meets-AB stuff. This was a treat.

Now it’s hard to guess how soon we’ll see Rahul taking off in the same way again, but what is getting increasingly more established every time he walks out to bat, is that if it’s Rahul and it’s a T20, chances are it’s going to mean big runs too.

2016 was the first calendar year where Rahul got to bat at least 15 times in T20s. Since the start of that year, these are his numbers in the format: 88 innings, 3576 runs, average 50.37, strike rate 148.13, four centuries, 34 scores of 50 or more.

34 scores of 50 or more, in 88 innings.

Let’s put that into perspective. In this time period, 226 batsmen have had more than 50 innings in T20s. Only nine have scored 50 once every four or fewer innings. Only four can boast of a 50+ score once every three or fewer outings: David Warner (2.51), KL Rahul (2.59), Virat Kohli (2.8) and AB de Villiers (3).

That’s right. KL Rahul hits a fifty more frequently than Virat Kohli in T20s, and he does so while maintaining a scoring rate healthier than Kohli’s (141.54) and Warner’s (141.21).

And when it comes to making it big, Rahul’s four centuries mean Aaron Finch (six in 152 innings), Chris Gayle (six in 171) and Virat Kohli (five in 104) are the only men with more T20 hundreds than him since 2016.

To think that he wasn’t even a sure-shot starter in the Indian T20I line-up a year ago!

Speaking of strange tactics from Virat Kohli-led sides, RCB… No, this isn’t a cynic who had been waiting to pounce at the first opportunity to lambast a captain/team; this is an observer who had pointed to the signs even when the same captain and team kicked off their season with a win and sent their fans (and people everywhere) into a tizzy.

It took two astonishing spells of bowling (from Yuzvendra Chahal and Navdeep Saini) and one astonishing brain-fade (from Jonny Bairstow) for the Royal Challengers to win a game where everything that could go wrong went wrong for Sunrisers Hyderabad. And they chose not to learn from the lessons their victory provided.

Death bowling was always the greatest concern for this franchise, an entity quite often easy to mistake as the death of bowling altogether. It’s unfortunate that they haven’t been able to call upon the services of Chris Morris – who they shelled out INR 10 crore for in a bid to bolster their stock – due to a side-strain.

Batting failure aside, Virat Kohli's captaincy left a lot to be desired against KXIP. Image courtesy: Ron Gaunt / Sportzpics for BCCI

Batting failure aside, Virat Kohli’s captaincy left a lot to be desired against KXIP. Image courtesy: Ron Gaunt / Sportzpics for BCCI

But they did still have Navdeep Saini, who just three days earlier had applied the finishing touch on their victory by castling Rashid Khan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the 18th over of the SRH run-chase. Saini, by the way, takes a wicket once every 10 balls at the death, compared to one in more than 50 balls in the Powerplay.

Against KXIP, Saini was given two overs inside the first six. He was left with only over out of the last five.

At the other end of the stick is Dale Steyn, who, without meaning any disrespect to his legendary career, should only really be looked at as a new-ball threat in T20s in his present avatar. On Thursday, though, Steyn was tasked with bowling two of the last four overs.

And Shivam Dube was left with the 20th over. Yes, I know, he ‘held the Purple Cap’ coming into that final over, and had conceded 25 runs from five overs in the competition till that point. But ask yourself a simple question: If you’re building a T20 franchise, with a pool of close to 100 crore rupees, with the option of making changes every 12 months, with tables full of analysts and years worth of experience – how do you end up having Shivam Dube as your death bowler?

Those three death overs from Steyn and Dube went for 63.

Meanwhile, Washington Sundar, whose record tells us he could well have bowled those two overs that Saini did in the Powerplay, was left with two undelivered overs – having conceded all of 13.

This isn’t rocket science.

Shivam Dube shouldn’t be bowling the 20th over of a T20 innings. And KL Rahul should be the first name on any T20 team-sheet. Enough said.

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