SRH’s former assistant coach Simon Helmot, in an exclusive chat with SportsCafe, opined that the loaded batting line-up of SRH prevented Rahul from being able to shine at the franchise. After two underwhelming seasons in SRH, Rahul made a career-defining switch back to RCB, where he became a star.
KL Rahul, as of today, stands tall as one of the best white-ball cricketers in the entire world, but things were pretty different when the Karnataka lad made his IPL debut as a 21-year-old for Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2013. A prolific run-scorer in red-ball cricket, Rahul, who averaged 50 in the 2012/13 Ranji Trophy season, failed to impress the RCB management in his debut IPL season - he scored just 20 runs in the 2 innings he batted - and, as a result, was let go by the franchise the subsequent year.
Sunrisers Hyderabad decided to take a punt on the youngster the following year, shelling INR 1 crore in the auction to acquire his services, but the talented right-hander amassing just 308 runs across two seasons at an average of 23.69 and an appalling strike rate of 106.2 meant that the Hyderabad-based franchise, too, ended their association with Rahul post-IPL 2015.
At this point in time, Rahul, for all money, looked like he was headed towards the ‘red-ball specialist’ direction, but in one of the most astonishing transformations in the history of the sport, the flamboyant right-hander sent shockwaves through world cricket after re-signing with RCB ahead of IPL 2016. In one season, the Karnataka man transformed from ‘chota Dravid’ to ‘chota de Villiers’ and endured a remarkable campaign, scoring 397 runs at an average of 44.11 and a strike rate of 146.49, showcasing never-seen-before aggression.
Rahul’s remarkable and ridiculous transformation has left fans and experts wonder whether SRH rued the decision of letting the youngster go, but according to the club’s former assistant coach, they didn’t. In an exclusive chat with SportsCafe, Simon Helmot, the former assistant coach of SRH who served the franchise for six years between 2013 and 2019, revealed that the loaded, top-heavy batting unit of SRH prevented Rahul from shining at the club. During Rahul’s time at the club, SRH boasted of Finch, Warner, Dhawan, Henriques, Williamson and Morgan among others, meaning the youngster was both short of opportunities and deprived of a well-defined role.
“We always knew KL Rahul was a talented player who had a lot more to give. But it’s all about squad balance. We had the best opening partnership in the IPL in the form of Shikhar and Warner, so while KL has been able to forge history by batting at the top, he didn’t quite get that opportunity at SRH at that particular point in time,” Helmot told SportsCafe in an exclusive chat.
SRH ended their association with Rahul prior to IPL 2016, but while the move worked like a charm for Rahul, on a personal front, it also ended benefitting the club, who eventually ended up winning the IPL by smartly utilizing the money they garnered by offloading the youngster. Helmot described letting Rahul go as a wistful business decision that had to be made but stressed that everyone in the club knew of the right-hander’s exquisite talent. On top of that, the former SRH assistant coach also expressed his personal love and admiration for Rahul, who, according to him, was a ‘very respectful young man’.
“Timing is an interesting thing as well - not just how the ball comes off the bat, but which team you’re in and where you’re at and what stage of your career you’re at. So for us at that time, we had to make a decision and so we let go of KL. But what the decision to let go a player of KL’s calibre did was free up our salary cap, due to which we were able to look at some of the other aspects of our side.
“We always knew KL was a talented player and was going to be a significant player not only for his franchise but also for India, but we had to make a strong decision and it worked. Because in 2016, we got the ultimate prize (winning the IPL). It’s one of those situations where you just have to make a call at that time. As much as you would love to have every player in your squad - of course, as a coach, you love every player in the squad - it unfortunately can’t be like that.
“But I always loved KL. He was a terrific person to work with, he was always looking to improve, very flamboyant and always wanted to keep developing and improving his game. He was a very, very respectful young man.”
Among highly debatable transfer decisions made by SRH was not just the one to let go of Rahul, but also the subsequent move to bring in a struggling Yuvraj Singh. Ahead of the 2016 season, Sunrisers paid a whopping 7 crore for Yuvraj, who was coming on the back of an extremely thin season for Delhi, and the club received flack for the coup due to the left-hander’s known, scarred past with the IPL. Much to everyone’s surprise, though, the move did not turn out too bad - Yuvraj stabilized the middle-order, played a bunch of handy knocks and proved integral to the side’s march towards winning the title.
Helmot explained that it was the veteran’s experience, hunger and familiarity with the big stage which swayed the franchise into bringing him to the side.
“We were very keen to get strong Indian talent and we knew Yuvraj was someone who had performed on the big stage many times before. Unfortunately for Yuvraj, people always talk about his six sixes, but that doesn’t happen all the time. But he is an impact player and if you look through, if you look through the statistics of Yuvraj in 2016, he was a really important player for us. He played some critical innings for us in the middle-order, where it’s not easy to bat, and he was so effective.
“He was not someone daunted by the big stage, he was a proven performer. In 2016, we had Warner and Dhawan at the top, we had Bhuvi and Fizz looking after the bowling and we just needed to strengthen our middle-order. Yuvi was able to help us with that. He had to overcome a lot of injuries, particularly in 2016, but one thing I loved about Yuvi was that he stayed the same - no emotion, he was consistent and he was integral to us in the title-winning season. And I think he, too, was proud to be a part of a championship winning side.”
After being appointed as the assistant to Tom Moody ahead of IPL 2013, SRH’s first season in the tournament, Helmot ended his six-year association with the club post-IPL 2019.