The independent voice of cricket

Cricket World Cup 2023

KL Rahul, for too long the apprentice, learns from the Chasing Master

KL Rahul and Virat Kohli | Partnership | CWC 2023 | IND vs AUS
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read

KL Rahul and Virat Kohli combined in Chennai to turn an almighty collapse into a batting masterclass. Aadya Sharma, at the venue, writes on Rahul, no more the chasing apprentice.

For all the attributes that make Virat Kohli the Master of the Chase, winning in Chennai required subtracting most of the virtues that make his batting legendary.

There was no early burst, no maniacal running between the wickets, no rapid acceleration at the death. It was an aggregate of small wins, stacked up across thirty-five-odd overs. It required putting his head down, not looking into the bowler’s face. It required smiling at missed outside edges, not sneering at his bat.


The extraordinary de-glam was a product of extraordinary circumstances. Two overs, three wickets, two runs, one maiden. Never in their long ODI history had India lost three wickets for fewer runs.

The Chepauk stadium, filled to near capacity and habituated all too often to winning, had been rattled out of belief. No team reduced to that score had ever won an ODI match.

To accomplish the chase couldn’t have been a one-person job, even for Kohli and his almighty powers. In fact, by the end of it, he wasn’t the lead hero.

Joining him was KL Rahul, on an upswing in a career as topsy-turvy as any. His childhood coach Samuel Jayaraj is convinced Rahul was born to open. But after years of discovery and rediscovery, Rahul has found his ODI calling at No.5.

“He was always early for batting and would never come out of the nets,” Jayaraj told Wisden India last year. “Even if he would say ‘last three’, it would be the last 30.”

That was it – the very primal trait that became the essence of Rahul’s batting in Chennai. There was no mounting run rate, no compulsion to strike hard, no scope for gimmicks. To deal with a metronomic Josh Hazlewood, pitching the ball with suffocating accuracy and immaculate seam position, you have to be a robot yourself.

“We just have to play proper shots and play like it’s Test cricket for some time and see where it goes,” Kohli told Rahul when he walked in.

For the first few overs, Kohli and Rahul let go of any and every intention of scoring. The storm had to pass. After a sequence of silence, Rahul’s bat let out the first scoring stroke: a neatly creamed drive off the wrecker-in-chief. Runs were still far and few.

A defining moment came when Kohli was blanked by a Hazlewood special, the ball whistling past his swinging bat. Moments later, Kohli shuffled down and delivered a spanking drive – the sound echoed through several thousand live ears at Chepauk – and many more in front of their screens. It was no statement or redemption, or anything of that sort. It was just the story of the day: you play some, you miss some.


Dead-bats, dry strokes and near-misses made it to the highlight reel of the first powerplay. And oh, a dropped catch that very nearly caused an anticlimax. No one was getting flustered, yet. Three overs later, Rahul merely prodded a Pat Cummins delivery to the boundary. Even amid batting collapses, he can time the ball like a dream.

Spin came, first through Glenn Maxwell, emphatically declared a “frontline spinner” by Hazlewood after the game, and then Adam Zampa, the supposed trump card of Australia’s World Cup plans.

That’s where Rahul’s brilliance shone. He used his crease admirably, prancing about at various depths to cut the turning ball. It was almost too dangerous, the cuts were as late as can be played, but Rahul catches the short ones early. Zampa’s googly-ridden first over went for 13 runs, the most scored in the innings thus far.

Over the next couple of hours, Kohli and Rahul went on an autopilot grind. With the early damage neutralised, Kohli settled into his usual chasing role, but Rahul was the more comfortable of the two. Kohli was gifted an early drop, clanked on the helmet by a bouncer, and narrowly escaped giving an outside edge on at least three occasions. Rahul sensitively handled all the ups and downs on his end, and by the second half, it felt like he had edged slightly ahead with his class.

It was another representation of Rahul’s recent pattern in chases: bat slower, score bigger. Batting second this year, he averages 123.66 at a strike rate of 76, compared to 51.4 and a strike rate of 109 batting first.

Yes, under lights, the surface behaved better than what the Australians faced, with dew making its presence felt as well, but this was still a tall ask. It was the opening game of a home World Cup, against a side that’s got five of those at home.

At a personal level, it perhaps mattered much more to Rahul. Here was a player who hadn’t played a single game of cricket from May to September, courtesy of a full-fledged tendon tear that had ripped apart his quadricep. India’s incumbent No.5, and primary wicketkeeper, had had an entire nation clinging on hope.

Throughout his recovery, Rahul’s biggest fear didn’t have anything to do with batting. In his own words, he feared if he’d ever have strong enough quadriceps to withstand the countless squats required of a wicketkeeper. The comeback was tested even further in the Asia Cup, when he skipped two early games to fix a new niggle.

When he held his forearm in Chennai, around the 36th over, one would have wondered what new injury had befallen him. But it was just cramps, brought about by an oven-hot afternoon where he kept wicket for nearly 50 overs, then came in after 12 balls to bat a further 40 in the humid air. The fitness test was passed. Similarly so, the batting exam.

A century against Pakistan at the Asia Cup, and now a near-century against Australia at the World Cup, are two major bullet points on Rahul’s ODI achievement list. For someone who’s often played without a fixed position, and has been dropped, shunted around and criticised frequently, the Chepauk knock was the physical manifestation of the celebration he so thoroughly enjoys: fingers in the ears, eyes closed. No time for outside noise.

Open them, Rahul. There’s only praise outside today. And say it quietly, but India’s chase-mastering load in ODIs might just have been divided in Chennai. There’s no apprentice anymore.

To bet on the World Cup with our Match Centre Partners bet365 head here.

Have Your Say

Become a Wisden member

  • Exclusive offers and competitions
  • Money-can’t-buy experiences
  • Join the Wisden community
  • Sign up for free
Latest magazine

Get the magazine

12 Issues for just £39.99