KL Rahul and Jos Buttler - Two superstars-in-making, one singular pathway

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KL Rahul and Jos Buttler - Two superstars-in-making, one singular pathway

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Bastab K Parida

07/04/2018

The ball was full and just swung a bit off the half-volley. It could have been punched on the off or whipped on the leg-side. But instead, the batsman decided to move his foot to create enough space to hit over the long-on for a six. And just like that KL Rahul stamped his authority in England!

The most important stage in the art of pottery is when the clay has the maximum moisture content which makes it malleable enough for the potter to give the clay the shape he desires. It is the stage that determines how the pot is going to be in the future. Our childhoods are pretty much similar to that stage where we just transform the way we’re shaped and KL Rahul was a fine talent to be nurtured. The grind of Karnataka cricket molded him and made him the tough character that he is right now.

And now, at 26, he has centuries in all three formats at the highest level, and with the grace, he moves his feet while playing the strokes, is just a purist’s delight. He has every stroke in the book and more and doesn’t shy away from playing them. For him, batting is not just a vocation, rather it is a way of expression of how to send the ball to different parts of the ground with minimal effort. Basically, Rahul has been a classic art yet a modern-day Indian cricketer to be a long-distance runner.

In a completely different part of the world, there is another guy, initially oblivious of his talent, but then made the world his oyster. The only player close to AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle to being a near perfect T20 batsman, Jos Buttler is an intelligent, articulate, gifted young man and can rule the limited-overs cricketing arena with an iron fist. After taking the IPL by storm this season, equalling the record for most consecutive fifties in the competition with five in a row for Rajasthan Royals, Buttler’s last eight T20 innings read - 67(26), 51(39), 82(58), 95(60)*,  94(53)*,  39(22), 61(30), and 69. Incredible is an understatement.

The similarities between two characters don’t end here. Both had to endure a tough start to their career riddled with injuries far too often. Rahul looked completely out of his depth batting in lower down on his Test debut at the MCG in December 2014 but returned to the top of the order a week later to score a sublime century at the SCG. However, following few months, when rehab hall became his regular visiting place than the Chinnaswamy nets, were anything other than frustrating as there was either a low score or a brilliant hundred. The pattern followed in the limited-overs cricket as well and as injuries started to take a toll, he became a non-starter in the team, more often than not. Talk about luck.

It was no different for Buttler as well. After a promising start in the summer of 2014, he was dropped from the team in 2015 after rendering heavily unsuccessful through a series in the UAE against Pakistan. Coming out of the Ashes series earlier that year with an average of 15.25, little improved in two games against Pakistan and Buttler was dropped for the third, averaging just 8.5 and making it 12 innings without a fifty. It was the time that he had to focus. After all, a talent like him is too valuable to sit out for long. Buttler too realized it and later on that same tour, the English keeper hammered a 52-ball 116 in the fourth ODI against Pakistan.

Two players were moving in one direction without even realizing it. It was a sickly sweet parallel storyline.

Looking at the bare statistics, it is very tempting to easily stereotype Rahul as the new generation of Indian batsmen who play without any inhibitions and attack at the behest. However, in reality, it is very different. Rahul is a player of attacking intent, but he is more guarded in his approach when needed and operates on a different level not only to the orthodox players such as Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma but to the aggressive hitters such as MS Dhoni and Rishabh Pant as well.

The pattern of scores and shot-making is not that different for Buttler either, who has been one of the most important members of England’s ambition to lift the "damned Cup" in 2019. The stark difference was the way he gets the powerplay going, but as we saw in India’s second T20I against Ireland in Dublin and the first T20I against England, Rahul can be the modern-day superstar, provided he gets more opportunities. The duo’s high attacking shots are largely a product of the enlightened era of attacking batting and also a consequence of their remarkable range of shots. While Buttler has been a master of brutal power in conventional scoring areas down the ground with punchy square drives, Rahul does the same with more finesse.

And as India has already started their two-month-long British tour, and luckily for them with a win, the two characters are going to be the difference more often than not - with due respect to the already established stars. With Rahul and Buttler taking the stage inside the powerplay, it will be difficult for the respective oppositions to contain the run flow because the duo doesn’t have any apparent weakness against any bowler-type. The reputation of being all-or-nothing players is all gone and the T20I series will prelude to one of the fine head-to-head battles when the sides will take the field in Tests.

Imagine, how sweet it would be the Kohli-Root storyline wouldn’t take the centre stage alone. There will be a lot of mini-battles. But it will be a soothing sight when two of the modern-day cricketers, carving a niche for themselves in the shortest version of the game, will showcase what they can do. Side by side. Match by Match. And, as Kohli pointed out on the eve of the series, a mad scramble for places is never a bad problem to have and both the teams eventually have their solution. And it’s time for the viewers to sit back and savour the magic.

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