The shot of the India-Netherlands match came in the 44th over from KL Rahul. Van Meekeran had hurled it pretty full and in the middle and leg, hoping perhaps to cramp him for room, but Rahul didn’t budge an inch. No foot movement, nothing, for even a tiny forward move would have got him a lot closer to the ball, yorking himself. There was no time to move back, anyways.
A younger KL would have probably just played the conventional flick, but the IPL version of KL doesn’t do simple stuff like that. Instead, he flexed his knee, held balance and triggering power, and just let his hands do the job: it was a wondrous swish, his own version of the helicopter shot that he has often played in the IPL in the last few years.
His old Ranji team-mate and close friend David Mathais had once told how it all came out.
“That shot over square-leg came because he was very good in the off side and the bowlers had began to tuck him up. Instead of losing his balance at the crease, he began to use his wrists to lap it up and over,” Mathias had told The Indian Express once.
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According to Mathias, Rahul’s transformation into having a wider arsenal of shots started after the first stint with RCB in the IPL in 2013. “He came back absolutely transformed. He had moved with the world class players there, saw how they prepared, what they could do, and came back obsessed about becoming the best. There is a remarkable transformation in the way he used to bat – was always good, solid, but post that the range of shots and the attacking mindset was staggering. Chalk and cheese,” says Mathias. “And as you see from that leg-side shot, he keeps updating himself to this day.”
Incidentally, in 2018, when KL Rahul was dropped from the Indian team after poor performances, it was Mathais who identified the problem.
“I could see that he was having problems with the incoming ball and that the bat was too far away from the body and head was falling, “Mathias told this newspaper “I felt that hands were away from the body and since the bat tends to be heavy, it gets to be dragged even further away. When the head isn’t in a great position, then your bat doesn’t travel in a straight path. When the ball comes in there is a gap to go through. And top-class bowlers can exploit it easily, and they did.
“That’s what I felt. I just saw it and said it. I must have said 10 other useless things but that one landed home! I didn’t realise that would make such a large difference eventually in his batting.”
Since then, they both have constantly worked on the problem. Rahul’s batting essence is his balance at the crease. When that goes awry, his shots tend to go pear shaped as well.
“It comes from good hard work on balance in the stance. The alignment at the crease,” Mathias says. That balance is the key for Rahul. “He doesn’t commit to any one shot. He is in a very neutral but strong position. It sounds very simple but under pressure, it’s hard to do it. Only a few do it. Because of that balance, you can access areas on grounds leaving a short margin to bowlers to err. The pressure is now on them. The flaws against incoming balls disappeared, his judgement of the off stump became good and since he loves batting so much and faced failure, his patience has improved. He now preys on the bowlers’ patience. The whole game reversed, basically. That’s the essence of his success.”
For Rahul, like most batsmen, it all comes down to how he handles the self-doubts. For that once he sorts his technique stuff, his mind takes care of shutting the noise.
“Just as his stance is neutral, so is his mind now,” says Mathias. “He is tremendously strong mentally. Once the technique thing kicked in – as in felt comfortable with the head position and the bat flow, that was it. The rest he sorted out mentally. Self-doubts vanish. It’s as close to ‘see the ball, play the ball’ – from that great balanced neutral position. And the mindset. He isn’t worrying about what the bowler is bowling, oh is he trying to target with the incoming ball or trying to get the outside edge etc…”
Ever since his comeback from injury in the Asia Cup, the mind, the body, and the bat has been doing all the talking.