Photo: SportzPics

“The idea of captaincy for me was very exciting, and it is something that I was expecting and I wanted in my career, so really happy that the KXIP management have shown that faith in me,” KL Rahul had said in an interview a few months before the start of the IPL.

And the 28-year-old seems to be revelling in this new responsibility for his franchise, masterminding Kings XI Punjab’s comeback in the second half of the competition. His efforts have been acknowledged by the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) as well, rewarding him with the vice-captaincy of the Indian National team for the ODI and T20I games against Australia next month. 

With a charming smile, an arm around the shoulder and his reserved celebrations, the opening batsman has certainly made a mark on his players and his franchise, as the 2020 Dream11 Indian Premier League has helped unearth a new facet to KL Rahul- captaincy. Many would have been skeptical of KL Rahul being given the added burden of captaincy, given that he would also be keeping wickets and opening the batting, however he has silenced his doubters by rising to the occasion with some prolific batting and inspired captaincy. 

Shrewd bowling changes 

A major contributing factor to KXIP’s resurgence in the second-half has to be attributed to the way KL Rahul has marshalled his bowlers in those games. He has very successfully used Glenn Maxwell for the powerplay overs, to factor in for one of his frontline bowlers having an off day and proving too expensive. Mohammed Shami has been reserved for the beginning of the innings because the new ball has been swinging both ways, to restrict the flow of runs and pick up early wickets. 

Chris Jordan who came into this competition as a death overs specialist, has been kept for the second half of the innings, and trusted with bowling at least two of the final four overs. The two leg spinners bowl tight lengths, get through their overs quickly and are experts at building the pressure in the middle overs. Therefore, Rahul has very astutely used them in tandem after the powerplay to build to the pressure already exerted by the likes of Shami and Arshdeep Singh. Rahul has used the right bowlers at the correct times, and that is what has made the KXIP bowling attack so daunting for the opposition. 

Empathetic leader

Making players comfortable was to be the main focus for KL Rahul as captain, he had mentioned in an interview before the start of the IPL. And the 28-year-old has done a stellar job in that, instilling confidence to all in his squad. Rahul has persisted with Glenn Maxwell despite the Australian struggling for form with the bat, in fact finding a role for him in the team as a powerplay bowler. Similarly he has kept his faith in Chris Jordan despite his poor start to IPL 2020, and the Englishman has repaid the faith with three consecutive match-winning performances. 

Kings XI Punjab have six frontline spinners in their squad, but the one who has played all games for them is 19-year-old IPL debutant Ravi Bishnoi. Rahul has shown tremendous faith in the young leg spinner, tossing the ball to him to bowl the difficult overs of the game. Similar has been his treatment towards young seamer Arshdeep Singh, who has been entrusted with bowling in the death by the captain despite his relative inexperience at this level. 

Leading by example

A hallmark of a good captain is leading by example, showing the way for the rest of his teammates. Rahul has arguably been the best captain this season in the Indian Premier League in terms of leading by example. He has been holding onto the Orange Cap for the past couple of weeks, and was man of the match for Kings XI Punjab in three out of their six victories this year. 

Despite being in such tremendous form, Rahul has repeatedly played down his performances, trying to shift the focus back on the others in the team and revelling in their glory. He has shielded the others whenever KXIP have performed badly this year, and taken the back seat whenever they have won. Unfettered by the pressure of captaincy or the pressure of being the leading run getter, KL Rahul has grown from strength to strength this year in the IPL, augmenting his reputation as captain of Kings XI Punjab.