KL Rahul began IPL 2020 in sparkling form, allaying his own fears of not being able to play a cover drive even. But six games in, after his slightly tempered-down approach - as compared to his blitzkrieg that the Kings XI Punjab have been mostly used to at the top - raised questions over his changing role as an anchor, Rahul countered them by stating that "strike rates are very, very overrated."
On Thursday, Kings XI were chasing 202, and Rahul was stuck on 11 off 14 balls after first being involved in a run-out with Mayank Agarwal and then seeing Prabhsimran Singh falling to a catch early in the chase. As per ESPNcricinfo's data, Rahul didn't look to attack any of the 14 deliveries he faced before top-edging a sweep off left-arm spinner Abhishek Sharma to Kane Williamson at square leg. By then, the pressure was already on Kings XI.
He linked his sedate approach with the bat to captaincy, and explained why batting through was important because the middle order hadn't really fired until then in the tournament. Rahul's change in approach has become increasingly visible since he struck 132, the highest by an Indian in the IPL, against the Royal Challengers Bangalore in his second game.
"Look, I think strike rate is very, very overrated. For me, it's only about how I can win games for my team," Rahul said at the post-match press conference. "On a certain day if I think 120 can win the game for my team, I will do that. This is how I bat. I like to take responsibility as a leader.
"Yes, we make mistakes. I'm not saying I haven't made a few mistakes, but you learn each day as a leader and batter. It's a partnership when you're in the middle as a batting group, every player has different roles in the team and those roles change with each game. So I try to do the best I can, try and assess and play according to that. At the end of the day, I need to walk out of the ground knowing I've got my team as close to winning or try to win the game. That is the most important thing."
Rahul then fielded a question on whether his team was too reliant on himself and Agarwal. On Thursday, Kings XI had hedged their bets on a five-bowler strategy, which left them a batter light. They left out Sarfaraz Khan, who had only faced 29 deliveries in the tournament until then, and had a very long lower order that had Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who nearly has the same number of T20 runs as his appearances, come in at No. 7.
"When you see a team at the bottom of the table, you start thinking a lot of things are not going right," Rahul said. "We can accept a lot of things haven't gone right, but no team has their top six firing. Couple of them will be in good form, couple of them may not, so it's important for the in-form players to get as many runs for the team. Openers are always - I won't say under pressure - expected to give good starts. I'm not very worried but if the set batsmen or those in good form can get as many runs for the team, that will help, make the team look good."
Amid the disappointments, Kings XI have had a number of young Indian bowlers step up. Ravi Bishnoi, the teen legspinner from Rajasthan, has shown the tenacity to pick wickets regularly. Against the Sunrisers Hyderabad, Bishnoi orchestrated a turnaround of sorts by dismissing David Warner and Jonny Bairstow in the space of three deliveries. Warner mistimed a slog off a googly to long-on and Bairstow, after making 97, was foxed by a flipper.
At the other end, left-arm seamer Arshdeep Singh, impressed immediately, bowling excellent yorkers and denying batsmen any room in the death overs. He finished with figures of 2 for 33 off four overs. Arshdeep isn't express quick and is more the mid-130s bowler, but he made up for his lack of pace with his accuracy.
"IPL is the biggest platform, the youngsters have been working really, really hard in the three weeks that we've been here," Rahul said. "Arshdeep and Bishnoi - so good to see them me among the wickets. They bowled high-pressure overs, and it's great to see how they held their nerve to bowl those big overs for the team at this platform. That will give them and the group a lot of confidence. Small things like these are infectious. It can spread to the rest of the group quickly. So really happy to see how they bowled."