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2003: Rahul. 2020: Rahul again

BENGALURU: One ball can change the course of a game, but it is not often that we see a major transformation taking place due to a particular delivery. A Pat Cummins bouncer gave Rishabh Pant a concussion during the first ODI against Australia.

KL Rahul has donned the keeping gloves since. Now the management wants to continue with him as the stumper for the T20I series against New Zealand, which starts on Friday.

“It definitely allows us to play that extra batsman, which strengthens our line-up massively,” said skipper Virat Kohli after India’s series win on Sunday.

“That is important as far as team balance is concerned. Rahul brings that to the team. He has done well. So we will have to persist with that a little bit, see where that takes us, and not necessarily be confused about the other options we have.”

Between 2002 and 2003, India looked to Rahul Dravid to keep wickets as it offered them to play an extra batsman and offer the team balance.

“If you look at the 2003 World Cup where Rahul bhai started keeping, the balance became different because you could play an extra batter and guys at the top could really play positive cricket,” Kohli said.

Rahul had scores of 47, 80 and 19 in the three ODIs. He also showed good hands behind the wicket, including a quicksilver stumping of Aaron Finch in Rajkot.

Being under the cosh for both his gauntlet skills and form with the bat, Pant seems to have slipped in this pecking order. Another fine run from Rahul in New Zealand could make matters difficult for Pant and the other wicketkeeper contenders.

The list includes Sanju Samson and MS Dhoni, with the latter not playing a single game after last year’s World Cup.

The Karnataka man — a natural opener — also understands that slotting into the middle-order as a specialist keeper presents him with a good chance of being a permanent member in the XI. Unless injuries happen, India seem likely to continue with Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan at the top.

Among all the other competitors, Rahul does bring with him the cushion of flexibility. He’s not new to keeping, having done so for his state in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and Vijay Hazare Trophy this season. He’s done the same for Kings XI Punjab. That apart, as a batsman — like he showed in Rajkot — Rahul’s approach to ODIs is an amalgam of good strike-rotation and boundary-scoring. His batting gears also suit T20s perfectly.

“I think a solid game plan and understanding of the game is helping him. He has reflected on what he needs to do in the last five to six months, and he has come a long way. These are good signs for us. ”