Rahul Dravid throws weight behind KL Rahul: 'He's really well suited for these kind of pitches'

India coach has "absolutely no doubt about who's going to open", and says Rahul is well-aware of the support he has from the team management

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
KL Rahul has unequivocal support from captain Rohit Sharma and coach Rahul Dravid after three single-digit scores in the 2022 Men's T20 World Cup. In 13 matches since the start of the Asia Cup in August year, Rahul has averaged 27.33 at a strike rate of 121.03. In the same period, his two top-order colleagues, Virat Kohli and Rohit have scored at strike rates of 142.49 and 138.79, which has raised questions over Rahul's place in the side. India themselves have no such doubts.
"No, not at all," Dravid said when asked if Rahul's form has become a headache for the leadership. "I think he's a fantastic player, and he's got a proven track record. He's done really well. I thought he's been batting superbly. These things can happen in a T20 game sometimes. It's not been that easy for top-order batsmen, this tournament has been pretty challenging.
"I thought he was superb in the practice game against Australia with Mitchell Starc and Patrick Cummins. It was a pretty good attack, and I thought he batted superbly that day [for his 57 off 33]. So he's actually playing really well. Just hoping it all clicks together over the next three or four games.
"We know his quality, we know his ability, and he's really well suited for these kind of conditions, these kind of pitches. He's got a good all-around game. He's got a very good strong back-foot game, which is obviously very much required in these conditions."
It is the conditions that have earned Rahul elbow room. In the 35 balls he has faced this tournament, Rahul has attempted to hit three boundaries, getting out on one of those. His other two dismissals came to defensive shots. That brings into sharp focus Rahul's intent, which can sometimes be at odds with his exceptional ability with the bat. Dravid was asked if India can afford to give Rahul the time to play himself back into form in such a short format.
"In these conditions, maybe we are able to afford him that time," Dravid said. "We completely back him. We have no concerns about him. We know that when he gets going, and I've seen it against Australia, against a top-class attack just a couple of weeks ago, I know the impact this guy can make. In Rohit's and my mind, there's absolutely no doubt about who's going to open for us.
"I think [there] is a unique nature to playing this tournament in this country, that almost game-to-game you're having to adapt your tactics, your strategies to different conditions. I think that's the uniqueness of that. If the conditions so dictate that the ball is nipping around doing a bit, then we can afford our batsmen to maybe be a little bit more conservative, keep wickets in hand and then target.
"It's about adapting and being smart. I don't think there's just one way to play T20 cricket on all conditions. Yes, there is a general template in which we understand you have to be positive; you have to take the game on. That would be 80% of most T20 games, but there is another 20%, and that can come in big tournaments like this, wherein you've got to have the players - and we discussed that in our dressing room - who have to be able to adapt and understand and read a situation.
"If it's not a 200-run wicket or it's not a 180-run wicket and 160 is going to get the job done for you, then let's figure out a way to get to 160. Last night [in Perth against South Africa], 150 might have done the job for us. I mean, 133 nearly did; 150 might have. We might be able to afford people a little bit more time [in such conditions].
"We may not [here, in Adelaide]. Might be really flat when we come out here tomorrow, and it might become a 180 wicket and we might need to go harder. But I think the key word for me is adaptability and reading these conditions, these boundaries really well, and the teams that do that best will probably be the ones that will end up in the top four and certainly in the top two."
Rahul has not been left on his own to figure his way out. There have been conversations and support has been communicated to him. "Rest assured, both in words and in action, over the last year, he knows he has our support. He has known that. There has been a lot of clarity about what our side is going to be, what our squad is going to be coming into this tournament, and we haven't wavered from that for a very long time.
"Yes, because we play a lot of cricket, you might see a lot of different people playing in different situations, in different games. There have been a lot of injuries, including him. He's had phases where he's unfortunately been injured. But in word and in action, with all of our players - that's the great thing about Rohit, that he's really shown them that confidence and that belief."
There has been a school of thought that Rishabh Pant can bring in the much-needed left-hand option if he opens in place of Rahul, but the only way Pant might get in is if Dinesh Karthik is not fully fit after he had a back spasm while keeping against South Africa in Perth. Dravid said Karthik had shaped up well on the morning before the Bangladesh match, and that he would be assessed after training. A final decision will be made on the day of the match.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo