With MS Dhoni retiring finally, the position for the keeper-batsman in the limited-overs XI is up for grabs, and KL Rahul is the first preferred candidate for the role. However, he has Sanju Samson for competition in Australia vs India ODI series Down Under.
But Rahul would be preferred as keeper-batsman in the XI. The team management is likely to pair up inform Mayank Agarwal with Shikhar Dhawan at the top, with Rahul being given the finishing role. Or, Rahul may even open and keep wickets for a better team balance.
So, is KL Rahul the best keeper-batsman in the post-Dhoni era?
It opens up a lot of options for Team India
With Rahul establishing himself as a power-hitter in limited-overs cricket, with a successful IPL 2020 campaign to show for, India is spoilt for choices. They can opt for Rahul as opener-cum-keeper and strengthen their batting or bowling – getting an extra bowler or batsman – depending on the wickets and conditions.
Rahul can also bat in the middle-order and don the role of a finisher in ODIs, whenever regular openers Dhawan and Rohit Sharma are paired up or India go for Mayank-Dhawan pair in Australia vs India ODI series. And Rahul has also proved himself in that role, with few brilliant knocks lower down the order.
Hence, keeper-batsman Rahul can be used as a floater depending on the needs of the game, and the team's requirements. Hence, it opens up a lot of flexibility in the batting order and gives the captain a lot of options.
Rahul has been extremely successful as keeper-opener
In the IPL 2020, Rahul was efficient in both his roles as a keeper and an opener. He was the leading run-getter in IPL 2020. So, if his fitness is up to mark, he can play both the roles successfully. Rahul can take inspiration from Adam Gilchrist who did both the jobs of keeping and opening the batting with great results.
Rahul has been successful as keeper-cum-middle-order batsman as well
It's rare for a batsman to excel in different positions. And Rahul has done that. He has an average of 72.75 at No 5 with 2 fifties and one ton in 5 innings, besides his proven record as the opener. Hence, Rahul's multi-faceted batting gives a whole new dimension to playing XI.
Other choices do not inspire much confidence
Rishabh Pant was considered the likely successor to Dhoni, but his inconsistent performance and poor IPL 2020 season saw him lose his place in the limited-overs squad to Australia. Besides, backup keeper Sanju Samson is yet to fire in international cricket and push away Rahul's challenge for the position. W Saha has been relegated to the Test squad although he has a brief and exciting IPL 2020 season. Hence, Rahul would be persisted with unless he runs into a horrible run of form with the bat and gloves.
But there are burn out chances
Rahul as the keeper-opener would be taxing on his body as it means being in action for the largest duration of the game. And only a few talented and fit players such as Gilchrist have managed to do that. Hence, if Rahul is persisted as the keeper-opener, the team management has to be aware of possible injuries to their star player and be prepared for it. They will have to find ways to manage Rahul's workload.
What is the best option then?
The best option is Rahul as the keeper-finisher, but only if he could match it up with consistent performances. Besides, there is a lot of opening options, with Mayank Agarwal coming good as the opener in IPL 2020, along with the regular opening pair of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan.
Verdict: Replacing a player of the stature of Dhoni would be no easy task. And hence, expectations will be high on Rahul to match Dhoni's legacy. But he has the talent and skills to do the job. The ball is on Rahul's court now.
Cover image courtesy: Bcci.tv