94, 100*, 91
No, those aren’t the lucky numbers for this week’s lottery, those are just Captain Punjab KL Rahul’s last three scores at the Wankhede Stadium in the VIVO Indian Premier League. The skipper has never been dismissed for a score below 90 at this venue while donning the red of Punjab.
We don’t know if it is the soothing sea breeze blowing from the Arabian Sea, or the warm hospitality of the stadium staff, or the batting friendly conditions of Mumbai, but something about the Wankhede Stadium seems to be working wonders for KL Rahul. It seems to get the right tune out of the Punjab Kings skipper, and with the skipper on song, the team has had a gala time more often than not.
The pitch and the stadium feel like it has been tailor-made for Rahul, who enjoys the extra pace on offer on the grassy surfaces at the Wankhede. More often than not, the ball comes on nicely onto the bat, and for a player with the ability and timing of Rahul, capitalizing on such conditions feels like child’s play.
The quick outfields at the Wankhede Stadium are also a useful asset for an opening batsman like Rahul, who simply needs to bisect the gaps to be assured of a boundary, especially in the powerplay overs. And having got his eye in, Rahul generally has gone on to get a big score, much to the dismay of opposition players.
Along with the pitch, the stadium too seems to be well suited for the 28-year-old. With short boundaries straight and square of the wicket, Rahul can nonchalantly play two of his favourite shots- the drive over the bowler’s head and the flick over square leg- to great effect, without being too worried of getting caught in the deep. In the game against Rajasthan Royals too, Rahul got three of his five sixes playing the drive over the bowler or the pull over square leg, clearing the fence with ease on all occasions.
Rahul’s exploits at the Wankhede Stadium however aren’t limited to the IPL, as he has performed brilliantly in the Blue of India too at that venue. Rahul was top scorer for the country with 91 runs in a T20I game against West Indies in 2019, a game in which India scored their highest T20I team total ever at home. The Karnataka born batsman averages in excess of 84 in T20 games played at the Wankhede Stadium, which is amongst the best for any player at that venue.
Finding form at Wankhede
In the 2018 season, Rahul and Punjab headed to the Wankhede having suffered a drubbing at the hands of Royals Challengers Bangalore in their previous game. His team had been bundled out for 88 runs and Rahul himself scored a paltry 21 in that match, but in the next match in Mumbai, he managed to turn the tide. Rahul scored one of the most eye-catching innings’ in the history of the IPL, getting 94 runs against a star studded Mumbai Indians bowling and almost managed to win an improbable game for his team.
The story was similar in the 2021 IPL season, as Rahul joined the rest of his Punjab Kings squad after a rather forgettable T20I series against England. The Punjab skipper has amassed just 15 runs in four T20I games against Eoin Morgan’s side, but in his first IPL game he let loose to score a match-winning 91 against Rajasthan. What changed? Maybe the fact that Rahul was back at his beloved Wankhede Stadium.
With two more Punjab Kings games slated to be played at the Wankhede Stadium, fans would rightly be optimistic about Rahul delivering the goods once again against Chennai and Delhi respectively, and possibly retaining that Orange Cap.