This is turning out to be the best season for Rahul Tripathi in the Indian Premier League. Having already scored close to 400 runs in 13 games, Tripathi has made Sunrisers Hyderabad’s shaky middle-order look better. Last season, his exploits at No. 3 took Kolkata Knight Riders to the final of the tournament. Again, Kolkata looked nowhere close to progressing to knock-outs, and yet they ended up as runner-ups. 

Tripathi is a cheat code that automatically improves the batting order of any team. He comes to bat at No. 3, the same position that Virat Kohli has batted for the majority of his T20 career. He can also open the innings, the position which Rohit Sharma has made his own. He, however, is from another league. Tripathi’s approach to the game very much embodies the demands of T20s: selfless, attacking, and versatile. 

Both Sharma and Kohli have a glaring weakness against spin, which makes it easier for teams to contain them after the Powerplay. Tripathi, meanwhile, can take down both spinners and fast bowlers with ease. His strike rate hovers around 150 against fast bowlers, and 132 against spinners, making him a truly versatile hitter who can put end to India’s middle-order conundrums. Team India definitely needs a player of his make, more so in Australia where the upcoming T20 World Cup is going to take place. 

“When you play cricket, it’s obviously your dream to represent the country. If I keep doing well and they believe that I can win matches for my country, then definitely I will get the opportunity.”

With India’s squad for T20 against South Africa set to be announced in the upcoming days, Tripathi has given a timely reminder of his ability. He provides exactly what India needs right now: a much-needed refreshing spin to what is currently an archaic T20 set-up.

“In T20 there cannot be a moment where you can slow down. Every ball is an event so I just think what could be the best result,” said Tripathi after slamming 76 off 44 deliveries. In contrast, when KL Rahul was asked about his dismal strike rate, he said: “Look, I think strike rate is very, very overrated. For me, it’s only about how I can win games for my team.” This is not to pit two Rahuls against each other. KL Rahul is a special player in his own right, but India has no dearth of players that provides very similar skillsets. Chief among them are Kohli and Rohit themselves, both representing a bygone era of T20 cricket. Rahul Tripathi, meanwhile, very much represents what the future of T20 batting will look like. 

He understands that slowing down in the T20s is detrimental for the team, even though it will, at times, help players put up the big total and justify their credentials to the world. That is of no bother to him. Tripathi knows how to maximize resources; neither is he a slow starter who consumes too many balls upfront, as demonstrated by his strike rate of 160, nor is he a mindless aggressor who never puts a price on his wicket. Tripathi has been averaging close to 40 in 13 innings this season.

On Tuesday, he freed up his arms with two boundaries in the first six balls he faced. When Jasprit Bumrah banged in short, Tripathi smoked a pull over mid-wicket for his first of the three sixes. He then finished the over with two consecutive fours to take 15 out of the fifth over. The field restriction allowed him to play such shots. But when he faced Bumrah again, in the 15th over, he was content with singles and doubles. 

‘Controlled aggression’ is just the perfect phrase to describe his batting. When asked about facing Bumrah, Rahul Tripathi said: I think he’s a great bowler. We all know that he bowls great balls so I was just looking to react to what he’s bowling. Luckily he bowled one and my shot came off.”

There’s certainly a method behind his madness. “It’s how the wicket is playing and how I can counterattack that bowler at that time. If I see that it’s there and I can take the bowler on, then I definitely go for the shot. If it’s not there, then I just look to take those singles and doubles.”

Featured Image: BCCI/IPL