Bengaluru: Rahul Dravid, despite his best efforts, couldn’t conceal his joy as he spoke aboutShreyas Iyer and KL Rahul. The head coach had drawn plenty of ire for backing the injury-prone duo even when it appeared India were running out of time to finalise their squad for the World Cup. As the stylish right-handerssmacked centuries one after the other during two-time champions’ thumping win over Netherlands here on Sunday, his conviction stood validated.
Both Shreyas and Rahul missed most part of final stretch to the World Cup due to injuries, the most crucial period where the think-tank finalises the squad. While Shreyas was laid low by a recurring back injury that flared up during the fourth Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in March earlier this year, Rahul picked up a thigh injury during Lucknow Super Giants’ home IPL game against Royal Challengers. Both players, extremely talented and already identified as key middle-order components, had to undergo surgery and then go through anxious rehabilitation phase in the hope of recovering in time for the marquee tournament at home.
India, to be on the safer side, did try out players like Suryakumar Yadav, Sanju Samson and Ishan Kishan — the latter as opener — to prepare for eventualities but in Dravid’s mind he was certain who his number four and five would be. If fit and available, despite not having much game-time, Dravid’s choices with eyes closed would be Shreyas at the critical No. 4 slot and Rahul, doubling up as wicketkeeper, a slot below.
There, however, was a problem. While Iyer made good recovery and made himself available for the Asia Cup in August-September, Rahul’s rehabilitation didn’t go as per plans and he ended missing the early part of the continental tournament. Then another twist occurred. While Rahul made a smashing return to the side with an unbeaten 111 against Pakistan in the Super Four game at Colombo, his friend Iyer injured his back again after the first two games and missed the tournament thereafter, leaving the team management a worried lot.
The management knew what a gifted cricketer Iyer was and hoped the Mumbaikar would be fit for the three-match ODI series at home against Australia which was India’s last pit stop ahead of World Cup. Iyer answered their calls and even made a century in the second game at Indore that eased the creases on Dravid’s forehead.
However, it was still not smooth sailing for Dravid as questions were asked continuously on why the management has backed two players who weren’t sure of passing the fitness test. But Dravid, one of the most astute captains the country has ever produced, was certain about the pedigree of Iyer and Rahul. He knew both were special talents blessed with skills of doing the extraordinary and the duo have exactly done that this World Cup.
Iyer, following a tepid start where he fell prey to the short ball on a few occasions, has blasted two half-centuries and century to total 421 runs, Rahul has a fifty and a century in his 347 runs. Iyer, a fantastic player in sub-continental conditions, has attacked from the get-go when the foundation has been strong but dropped anchor whenever the situation warranted. He has read the conditions and situations intelligently, eliciting praise from Dravid for his "incredible temperament."
Rahul, on the other hand, has been quite a package. Just like his coach who took up wicketkeeping duties to add depth to the side at the 2003 World Cup where India lost in the final to Australia, Rahul has been brilliant behind the stumps, even taking some brilliant catches. Not bad for a guy who took up keeping only much later in his cricketing life as an add-on to his batting brilliance.
The duo will be hoping to carry forward that momentum against the dangerous New Zealand.
(Published 13 November 2023, 15:07 IST)