K L Rahul
A concussion from a hit on the protective helmet can be painful for any batsman who is unable to prevent the ball making contact.
The hard cork-leather cricket ball thudding into a batsman with a helmet on can still be fatal as we saw in the case of the most unfortunate Phil Hughes. He was so unlucky as to have the ball make contact with an unprotected area below his left ear.
A concussion from a hit on the protective helmet can be painful for any batsman who is unable to prevent the ball making contact. But in an eerily strange experience for cricket, two recent incidents of batsmen being concussed have thrown up unique opportunities for others.
Would the Australians have discovered the real depth of talent in Marnus Labuschagne — a Spelling Bee test kind of surname as he comes from Afrikaner stock from South Africa’s North West Province — if not for the concussion that Steve Smith suffered in an Ashes Test? As concussion substitute Labuschagne shook up the Test cricket arena and then went on to top score in both innings in the next Test as he kept Smith’s place again. He not only made a name for himself but also batted so long with his idol that he copied Smith’s dancing ‘leave’.
Team India may have also had a similar concussion experience or should it be called a cricket’s ‘Concussion Coincidence’ as it discovered the more than passable wicket-keeping talent of KL Rahul? Going along with his considerable batting skills that have found fresh avenues for expression as a mature thought process is behind the choice of strokeplay now, Rahul has brought back an old revolutionary solution to team composition by becoming an all-rounder in the sense that he keeps as well as opens the batting.
This is not the first time in the game that injury to one player has led to opportunity to another player to prove himself. Not the first time either that wicket-keepers stepping into an emergency situation have gone on to grab the job with the gloves for a longer term. But Rahul’s coming out with flying colours as the best utility player for Team India in the white ball game is not the first time it has occurred in Indian cricket.
In the World Cup in England in 1999, an injury to Nayan Mongia meant Rahul Dravid had to keep wickets in the match against Sri Lanka in Taunton where he not only scored 145 while sharing a triple century stand with Sourav Ganguly for the second wicket but also showed sufficient competence with the gloves behind the stumps. Suddenly, Team India seemed to have stumbled upon a more effective combination with a batsman keeping wickets and thus making place for another specialist in the XI.
Since they had just lost to Zimbabwe to jeopardise their chances in an all-play-all league, the turnaround was remarkable. Rahul was thought to be something of a misfit in the ODIs early in his career. He scotched those doubts that day with an aggressive innings in which he outscored Ganguly after coming in early at No. 3. There were many more times in his ODI career that Dravid had to make the sacrifice of keeping wickets while also batting up the order.
Of course, the most remarkable transformation in the one-day game for Team India came with the neck injury that Navjot Sidhu suffered in New Zealand and young Tendulkar volunteered to open. That became a seminal moment in his ODI career as well as a transformational moment for Team India that woke up again to the possibility of early aggression against the new ball with genuine cricket shots could change the very concept of aggression in the game. What Sachin went on to do as opener against the white ball after that became historic.
The bookies were known not to open their books so long as Sachin was in as they knew the game would tend to lean towards India if he fired. Sachin finding his metier in the one-day game was owed to that one event of Sidhu’s injury though I suspect the idea had been flirted with as early as in the 1992 World Cup. So it’s not as if a player missing due to injury, illness or suspension or any other reason is bad for the team as such. More often, this simply provides an opening to someone else.
Lokesh Rahul’s gain is Rishabh Pant’s loss. This is a pity because the youngster is so talented and, perhaps, unlucky that he top-edged the ball on to his helmet. His time will come but hopefully not because someone else is injured. One eerie coincidence with the Rahul somewhere in their names may be sufficient for Indian cricket.