Rahul makes up his mind and goes bang bang

Moody: KL Rahul is turning good balls into scoring opportunities (1:23)

Tom Moody and Wasim Jaffer on KL Rahul's knock against CSK (1:23)


Stump mics are such beautiful things. And we're such nasty people. Always eavesdropping. But then again, without them, the sport loses a bit of its magic.

Rishabh Pant, for example, has a song that goes "Wee've gooot Paaaant. Riiii-shabh Paaaant. I just don't think you understaaaaand. He'll hit you for a six. He'll babysit your kids. We've got Riii-shabh Paaaaaaant." It's a shameless copy of the one that Wrexham, the Welsh football club owned by Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, use to serenade their No. 1 striker Paul Mullin. And its best lyric comes out of a conversation that was caught on a stump mic in Australia.

In Lucknow, they caught the home team captain crying out. The source of KL Rahul's anger - and he actually needed to pace up and down the batting crease to calm himself down, still muttering away - was a dot ball in the powerplay.

Deepak Chahar had managed to sneak one of his bouncers through to the wicketkeeper. But it was so damn hittable. With point and third up inside the circle, all it would have taken was the smallest deflection. Rahul knew this. That's why he stayed leg side, in a little bit of a crouch, waiting for the perfect moment to bring his wrists into play and lift the ball over the keeper. His timing was off and he hated himself for it.

Rahul had recently revealed, on a podcast with his India team-mate R Ashwin, that the World Cup final lives rent-free in his head. Specifically, a decision that he was unable to make in the heat of the moment. He said he wasn't sure if he should take down Mitchell Starc when he came back to bowl in the death or if he should have played him out and looked for runs elsewhere. He regretted being in two minds.

Towards the end of the game against Chennai Super Kings, Rahul struck Mustafizur Rahman so precisely between two fielders on the off-side boundary that neither knew whose responsibility it was. Sameer Rizvi was reduced to just running past his team-mate while the ball hit the fence and as he did so there was something that looked almost like a smile on his face, as if he was appreciating the skill it took to render two full-grown men completely inert. Rizvi and Rachin Ravindra could have stopped it from going for four, but by that point, they were so close to each other that any attempt to dive would have resulted in a collision. So, they just pulled out. They accepted defeat.

Shots like those are only possible with a clear mind. A single, determined, focused mind. Rahul, in this IPL, has looked like the batter that all of India has been dreaming he would become. On the attack in the powerplay. Willing to take more risks. Moving around the crease. Hitting in the air. And just generally remembering that a) he has lightning-fast hands, b) a great piece of willow, and c) no business fearing a clump of white leather.

In the sixth over, Chahar hoped to exploit a two-paced pitch by digging the ball into it, taking the pace off and keeping the line wide. It was a challenge to the batter. And Rahul met it perfectly, because instead of looking to hit across the line even though it is easier to generate power that way, he hit through the line, which meant he had nullified the threat he was facing. He wasn't going to get out dragging it from off to leg.

Now all he had to do was hold his shape and make reasonable enough contact, which sounds simple but it really isn't. Timing. Balance. Hand-eye coordination. Everything has to be right to usher a short ball coming up above the chest over cover for six. Especially with only 116kph to work with. It was immediately after this stroke that Rahul missed his uppercut and yelled out in frustration. He had already got ten off two but was still looking for more boundaries. He's changed. He hit two sixes in the powerplay on Friday. In 2023, he hit two sixes in the powerplay all season.

"I always try to assess the situation and see what I can do best for my team," Rahul said at the presentation, after scoring his fastest fifty for Lucknow Super Giants, off 31 deliveries, "And today was another such day where I tried and it came off. I knew that with Chennai's spinners, they would try to put the brakes on us and try to create a lot of pressure after the powerplay so it was important that we got off to a good start. So I picked my bowlers, picked who I felt I had to take down and tried to do it and it came off today."

Having previously defended his conservatism and even admitting that sometimes he couldn't play the way he wanted to because of the needs of his team, Rahul has thrown the shackles off. He has a strike rate of 154.08 in the powerplay this year - which is second only to his performance in 2018 (157.57) - and a balls per boundary ratio of 4.26.

With the T20 World Cup coming up, and the national team all set for top-order options, there was a chance that he might slip down the order and compete with the other No. 4s and No. 5s in the country. It's sound logic. Except you can't play for one team thinking about another. Rahul's probably had enough of that. Enough of being in two minds. Now, he's just responding to the ball that's coming down. Now, he's just playing the game he loves the best way he knows how so that he'll never have any regrets ever again.