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Feature

Fit-again Rahul amps up preparation in a bid to bring back his old fluency

The opener hasn't played a single T20I this year but knows the next two weeks are crucial with the T20 World Cup looming

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
26-Aug-2022
KL Rahul is yet to feature in a T20I this year because of injuries, and in the time he has been away, India have shifted towards a new approach to the format from a batting perspective. He may not have been an active part of this process, but he's aware of it, and happy to buy into it as India look to fine-tune preparations leading into the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia.
On Thursday, Rahul had his first hit with the T20I squad after arriving from Zimbabwe, where he led India to a 3-0 sweep in the ODI series. With scores of 1 and 30 in the two innings he played in Harare, his own batting form was patchy, and Rahul's focus in the nets was simply on enjoying an extended session.
Even as Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Suryakumar Yadav brought out their artistry, Rahul seemed intent on bringing back his fluency. VVS Laxman even jokingly stopped him from coming out of the nets twice. Rahul enjoyed three stints in all, over a three-hour session.
He was edgy against pace initially, and was beaten on length on at least three occasions by Arshdeep Singh's angle away from him. Rahul held his own against Bhuvneshwar Kumar's swing, though, getting right behind the line and moving swiftly into position to drive and play straight. His sessions were closely monitored by two cameras - one behind the stumps and another in front of cover, just outside the net.
After his first 30-minute session, Rahul cooled off for a bit and went back in for round two against spin. Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin challenged him by pushing him back with a series of quicker ones and sliders. Rahul focused on his back-foot play, and the big shots that weren't seen in his first session slowly surfaced late into his second as he tonked a straight hit over the sightscreen.
In the third session, Rahul was simply focused on meeting the ball with giant forward strides, especially against Arshdeep, who bounded in tirelessly. The left-arm seamer was tossed a new ball that he swung back in from different lines, ranging from fourth stump to middle, just to get Rahul playing straight and ensuring he wasn't bringing his front pad in the way. For someone who has all the shots in the book, this session was all about the basics.
Then, as the last round was called, Rahul had fun, paddling and ramping deliveries before ending with a flat-batted slap to walk off tired and happy. The punch on the bat as he walked off resonated with satisfaction at grinding his way in.
On Friday, Rahul spoke of India's new approach and of enjoying the challenge of bringing it to life. At IPL 2022, his most-recent competitive T20 outing, Rahul's powerplay strike rates barely crossed 100, drawing plenty of chatter from pundits and former players. In the death overs, though, which he seemed intent on building towards, he struck at 198.36. Overall, Rahul ended the season with the second-most runs - 635 in 14 innings at a strike rate of 135.38 - behind Jos Buttler.
"This new approach, we'd spoken about it much before when I was part of the team early on in the year as well and just after the [2021 T20] World Cup," Rahul said. "Last season we had spoken about what we need to improve individually and how as a team we try to be more aggressive, put the bowlers under pressure by going out there and play with a lot of authority, freedom and aggression.
"So I was there when that happened. Unfortunately, I have not been able to play too many T20Is since then, but we have played the IPL, and I played with the same approach, tried to see how with that same approach I can be consistent and still contribute to the team. I haven't played since the last two-three months, and that is a challenge for me, one I am looking forward to.
"It's done really well for us, the new approach. What the team wanted and what the captain needed has been embraced by everybody, every player in the team, which is great to see and that is the biggest step. That big step has already been taken and embraced by the players, so from now on it's only about building on it and getting stronger and by the time the World Cup comes, everyone knows exactly what to do."
The next two weeks could be another test of Rahul's work towards returning to being the white-ball destroyer he can be. He isn't the captain, and he has a middle order that can take apart the best of attacks. From a team point of view, it's all systems go. Rahul couldn't ask for a more ideal scenario than this.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo