The Punjab franchise made numerous changes at the start of IPL 2021. The team rebranded themselves and started their innings on a good note by clinching a last-ball win against Rajasthan. But post the first game of IPL 2021, it seems like Punjab is back to its old ways as the franchise has suffered two consecutive losses. Last year too Punjab Kings lost eight out of 14 games and failed to make it to play-offs. Now team skipper, KL Rahul is once again under scrutiny about his batting and captaincy. Just like his team, KL Rahul started the season with 91 runs off 50 balls, but then in the very next match, he failed to deliver as he got run out after just scoring five runs. In the third match, against Delhi Capitals even though he scored 61 in 51 balls it was with a lower strike rate of 119.6.
The team’s batting coach Wasim Jaffer had mentioned that the fans will get to see a more aggressive game from KL Rahul. Last season, the Punjab skipper was the highest run-getter (670) but he scored these runs at an average strike rate of 129.35. Elaborating on this Jaffer had explained that KL had assumed the anchor role and batted deeply as there was not much batting after No. 5, and Glenn Maxwell was not firing. He took that responsibility on himself to try and stay at the crease and get the job done.
Now this year albeit it is a little early to determine KL’s seasonal performance there seems to have opinions formed. On his YouTube channel, former Indian batsman Aakash Chopra insisted that Rahul’s lack of acceleration did cost Punjab later in the innings against Delhi Capitals.
“When Mayank Agarwal got out, KL Rahul was required to accelerate a little, something he did in the first match. He had missed out on a century, but the acceleration was there. Here also the expectation was that he would hit. He did not do that, and when he looks back, he will regret a little because the finish was not strong.”
On the other hand, Sanjay Manjrekar, although had praised KL’s performance against Rajasthan had also expressed that if he had played with a strike rate of around or over 140 which he easily can, Punjab would have ended up much bigger target.
Since IPL 2020, there have been only five instances of a batter facing 50 balls in the first innings and ending up with a strike rate of less than 140. The lowest three are all by Rahul, and the Punjab Kings have lost the game each time. From being an aggressive opener, Rahul switched to playing anchor, and his lack of intent in the powerplay overs cost his team a playoff spot as they lost a couple of close matches from winning positions.
KL Rahul got seven scores of 40 or more in IPL 2020, and only one of them helped them to post scores of 170. Five of those scores by Rahul were at a strike rate of less than 130, and Kings ended up losing four of those games. Even the only game they won was off the last ball of the match. Perhaps the Kings are getting the ‘big’ scores with their captain batting through the innings, but these totals are still below par when circumstances are taken into the picture.
This year Rahul’s 61 runs were worth only 44, taking into account his low strike rate, and even though he was one of only three players to score a fifty, his impact was only the tenth-best in the match. Moreover, Smith dropping the catch of KL in the second over ended up costing Kings 16 runs, which means that DC benefited more from Rahul staying in the game. Amidst criticism over his scoring rate, Rahul snapped last year and admitted that he feels that strike rates are overrated.
“Strike-rates are very, very overrated. For me, it’s only about how I can win games for my team. And if on a certain day I think a strike-rate of 120 can win the game for my team, I will do that. This is how I bat, and I would like to take responsibility as a leader.”
Rahul might be the highest run-getter, but he needs to pick up his strike rate if he wants his team to qualify as his pace with the ball will in turn set the pace for the team. And that is not all the Punjab Skipper was also bought under the lens by Ashish Nehra who said that Rahul had to choose his bowlers wisely as that is something that is under his control.
“But there are certain things which are in your control, at least that you can do. You didn’t give early overs to your most expensive overseas bowlers. Meredith came after 10 overs and picked the wicket of Steve Smith in his first over. Even Shami bowled four overs in four different spells. You preferred Arshdeep to begin with. So, where will you control the game from – frontend or the backend?”
KL Rahul’s biggest test at the moment will be to lead the franchise to their maiden IPL trophy. It might open doors for him to take over the captaincy from Kohli in the future which looks far from reality with the kind of contenders present.
Stats courtesy: ESPNcricinfo