One Rahul to another one during a period of 20 years, we have certainly come full circle, not because both KL Rahul and Rahul Dravid were classic batsmen and both hail from Karnataka. There are more similarities than what meets the eye. Both of them were not regular wicket-keepers but took up the role when the team badly needed so. Even the situation which led to both of them taking gloves were also similar.
The last time India faced a similar situation was when Nayan Mongia injured himself during the 1999 World Cup when Team India didn’t have a quality backup wicket-keeper which led to “The Wall” Rahul Dravid keeping wickets. It seemed that he was not at all excited to do so initially but for the team player he was, he welcomed the extra duty to keep the team’s interest in first place in the World Cup. That was the first time when India chose quality in batting lineup over a quality wicket-keeper.
By the turn of the millennium, a lot had changed, a match-fixing saga which rocked the international cricket forced a big change in how cricket had been looked at in India. Captaincy changed hands from Mohammed Azharuddin to Sourav Ganguly, flamboyance in Indian cricket came to the fore in the form of Sehwag, Yuvraj with the bat and Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan with the ball.
Cricket was revolutionizing everywhere with more big hitters entering the scene. But the situation team India was in with the lack of quality wicket-keepers who can bat was haunting the team more than ever before. When teams like Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka had unearthed quality wicket-keeper batsmen like Adam Gilchrist, Mark Boucher and Kumar Sangakkara, the Men in Blue didn’t have one.
India were experimenting with keepers who can bat a bit like Ratra, Dighe, Dahiya, Deepdas Gupta, Parthiv Patel. But to team India’s dismay, nobody grabbed the opportunity which led to one of the most important decisions of that decade. By the year 2002, captain Saurav Ganguly finally decided put a full stop to the debate and went ahead appointing Rahul Dravid as a full-time wicket-keeper. And the latter, without much dismay, accepted the role because he understood that there was a dearth of quality in that aspect which was the norm in international cricket to win tournaments.
In that period from 2002-2004, team India went on to win the Natwest Trophy, ICC Champions Trophy, qualified for the 2003 World Cup final. Dravid was not the best of wicket-keepers but he was the only one who was a quality batsman. His wicket-keeping performance was not consistent occasionally dropping crucial catches in crunch matches but team India persisted with him because he was winning matches with his bat.
India were looking for a flamboyant batsman who could keep as well after the World Cup.And this when MS Dhoni came into the picture who later went on to become one of the world’s best middle-order batsman in limited overs cricket ever. The rest was history, over a period of 10 years or so there was never a question of who is going to keep for India until Dhoni retired from Test cricket in 2014.
History repeats itself for India
With the former India captain nearing the end of his career, Deja vu struck again in the form of a lack of quality batman-wicketkeeper. With Team India trying out Dinesh Karthik, Rishabh Pant in limited-overs cricket in Dhoni’s absence but none have cemented their place for a long time.
Again there was a player named KL ‘Rahul’ who took up the job because Virat Kohli felt it was necessary for the balance of the team. He is not an experienced wicket-keeper by any stretch of the imagination but is doing the job for India as of now. He is bound to have a bad day but the team management seems to be backing him. In a World Cup year, the move to bring KL Rahul in as a wicket-keeper may turn out to be a great move as it allows the team to play an extra batsman.
Only time will tell whether the way in which team management grew tired of Rahul Dravid as a wicket-keeper during Sourav Ganguly’s reign which led to his axing as a wicket-keeper will repeat once again and this time it could be KL Rahul at the receiving end. As far as Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson are considered, their inclusion in the World Cup team as a wicket-keeper is on the line when they come out to bat in this IPL.
~Written by Prajit Ravindran
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