During the early years of the new millennium, in the pre-Dhoni era, the Indian team was in frantic search of a consistent wicketkeeper-batsman. Then captain Sourav Ganguly had tried Nayan Mongia, Ajay Ratra, Vijay Dahiya, Parthiv Patel, Deep Dasgupta, and even Samir Dighe in the space of 2 years, but none of them performed well enough with the bat, to cement his place in the side. The keeper-batsman was becoming a liability to the batting line-up and that was crippling the Indian team big time. It is around this time, that Ganguly asked his vice-captain, about his willingness to don the keeping gloves in ODI format.
Rahul Dravid, being the team-man that he has always been, obliged to his captain's request and decided to give it a try. However, Dravid had a pretty interesting story to narrate when asked about his role as a wicketkeeper-batsman in the 2003 Cricket World Cup. Funnily enough, Dravid had kept wickets only till school level and left his duties with the gloves at the age of 15, after realising that his feet movements were pretty stiff.
Confident of speeding up his feet movement behind the stumps, he started training under a specialist wicket-keeping coach to prepare himself as a keeper-batsman for the 2003 World Cup. Much like everything Dravid has tried on and off the cricket field, he achieved reasonable success in wicketkeeping as well, with dedicated training and focussed guidance. He went on to keep wickets in 73 ODIs, claiming 71 catches and 13 stumpings in the process. Dravid's efforts proved to be highly beneficial for his team, as it allowed India to play that extra batsman at No. 7, which proved to be highly critical in the knockout matches of the World Cup.
Cut to 2020 and its another World Cup year.
While 2003 was the pre-Dhoni era in Indian wicketkeeping, 2020 is the post-Dhoni era. Much like one Rahul had picked up the keeping gloves to lend his team the much-required balance 17 years ago, another Rahul is making his presence felt behind the stumps in the post-Dhoni era.
KL Rahul is in the form of his life for the past few months. He has had 2 memorable IPL seasons scoring 659 in 2018 and 593 in 2019. In addition to that, he has kept wickets all through the 14 matches in each season, affecting 18 dismissals behind the stumps. His case is stronger as a wicketkeeper-batsman, he has kept wickets for Karnataka in the semi-finals and finals of Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy 2019-20. Finally, an opportunity came knocking at his door at the beginning of the new year. The regular wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant had to sit out of the 2nd ODI between India and Australia, because of concussion and Rahul had his chance of showing his magic with the gloves.
The obvious difference between the two sides in the 2nd ODI was KL Rahul's whirlwind innings of 80 from 52 balls. But, his batting brilliance and his audacity of stroke-making are things are we cricket fans are accustomed to seeing in limited over internationals. The highlight of his performance was the stumping of Finch. His rapid hands, his anticipation, and his match awareness were tremendous as he caught Finch inches short of the crease, in a crucial moment of the match. Besides that, there were a few exquisite takes down the leg-side that showed that he has been honing his art behind the stumps for quite some time.
With Pant terribly out of form, both as a keeper and a batsman, and with Rahul's rising stocks, it remains to be seen how long the team management sticks to the Delhi player as a first choice wicketkeeper. Though one match is too small a sample size to judge a keeper, KL Rahul has shown glimpses of his brilliance behind the stumps, which are only bound to improve, if he is given a longer rope.
The T20 World Cup is still 10 months away and it is a big prediction to make whether KL Rahul will replace Pant as the first choice keeper, especially considering the team management's abundant confidence in the left-hander. But it can be said for sure that 17 years after Rahul Dravid, another Rahul has successfully donned the wicketkeeping gloves in a World Cup year, to lend better balance to the dynamics of the Indian cricket team.