Match number 41 of the IPL. Rising Pune Super Giants need 46 off 48 balls. Kolkata Knight Riders want to stretch this game for as long as they can. There lies their opportunity. On the contrary for RPS except for Rahul Tripathi who is batting on a 33- ball 62 no other batsman has got going. They want to get done with this asap. Kuldeep Yadav is back for his second over after going for just 5 in his first. What happened next *touch wood* probably are a watershed set of three deliveries in making of the next big Indian batting superstar.

Rahul Tripathi takes a tossed up leg break from the stumps and tonks it over midwicket for six. He watched the ball sail over and immediately there is a smile on face. The next ball is a googly. Tripathi picks it of Kuldeep’s hand. He goes down on one knee and this time hits a lot straighter as if accommodating the turn and hits towards long on for another maximum. Tripathi belongs to a generation of batsmen who after hitting two consecutive sixes in a run chase don’t opt for a single in the next ball. They try for the third six. Did he get it? You bet he did. This one landed in the KKR Dugout. The equation was now down to 27 off 44. In front of a champ pack Eden Garden, against a quality bowling attack, right in the center stage of IPL Cricket the 26 years old Rahul Tripathi announced himself. All of this just with tremendous skills and an ear to ear grin with a child-like twinkle in his eyes.

Born in Ranchi, cricket came early in Rahul Tripathi’s childhood as it does in most of ours. Again like most of us it had something to with his father, who had a cricketing background having played junior cricket in Uttar Pradesh and then university cricket. His father served in the armed forces just like many around us, a transfer meant that Rahul had to start all over again in a new city. Pune. This is where his training as a cricketer and more importantly his cricketing journey began. After making it to the Deccan Gymkhana, one of Pune’s premier cricket clubs Rahul’s Ranji call-up came in 2012. However, like plenty first class cricketers he too had a rough start. This is where the transition began. For a batsman with a copybook technique, Rahul was almost too defensive a batsman in the beginning of his career. Changing the entire tempo of run scoring in one’s batting style is very tough ask. But gradually he started accumulating runs at a quicker rate.

The 2014-15 Ranji Trophy season marked the beginning of this. With more than 500 runs that season Tripathi ensured Maharashtra was in the semifinals of that tournament. He continued his good work with the bat in the next season as well where he amassed 492 runs that included two centuries. After two good seasons, Tripathi was already under the radar the IPL scouts. But then his Ranji Trophy dream run ended in the last season as he just managed a piffling 185 runs of his 11 outings. During the beginning of that pathetic season, Rahul had come in contact with the Rising Pune Supergiants team management. He said in a post-match interview recently “I had been in touch with the coach and support staff and they wanted me to improve my power game. I was told that I had to work on my base for a couple of shots. I tried that in the domestic season.”

Even after the poor Ranji Trophy run, Rahul was determined to work on the pointers he was assigned regarding his power game. On 24th Of January 2017, Rahul playing for BPCL smashed a 154 -ball 191 (22X4’s, 9X6’s) with a staggering 74% of the runs scored in boundaries against Jain Irrigation in the Times Shield Tournament. A month later, RPS showed faith in a talent they had been following for a while and Rahul was picked in the auctions at his base price of 10 lacks and he became the first local player to represent the Pune franchise.

In the 9 matches, Rahul has scored 352 runs at an average of 39 at a strike rate of 155.06. These numbers are gold. What makes these numbers better is that he now has seven 30+ scores in the tournament. That makes his success rate of a whopping 77%. Incredible!

Beyond these incredible numbers what lies is the impeccable batting approach of Rahul Tripathi.

Time and again he has danced down the track against the pacers. While doing so, he hasn’t looked only to hit boundaries but to create angles and find gaps to keep the scorecard moving. Also, he has played the short ball majestically. Having said that, Rahul is one of the few batsmen in this tournament who has played both the pull and the hook short with such accuracy. He is equally destructive against spin. In his match winning 93 last night his most profitable short was the sweep that got him 26 runs.

Apart from his extraordinary skill set he has shown the maturity that is required at the highest level as well. In the game against Gujarat Lions in which RPS suffered a top-order collapse and were reduced to 10 for 3, there was a tiny passage in play where Rahul looked to curb his aggressive instincts and build a partnership with Ben Stokes. But unfortunately, that didn’t last long as Rahul ran himself out. Rahul wanted to make up for that. Hence while chasing 156 on a tricky surface that was gonna slow down deep into the second innings, Rahul decided to make the most of the hard new ball and the powerplays.

So even after the early loss of his partner Ajinkiya Rahane, Rahul tore apart the KKR bowlers in the first six overs with seven boundaries and three sixes and raced to 47 off 18 balls. After getting off to a flyer, RPS knew if they preserved their wickets going into the 14 over mark they will reach the target. Hence after the powerplays, Rahul batted differently and scored just 10 runs off his next 12 deliveries. Once the threat of Sunil Narine was nullified he again accelerated and scored 36 of his final 22 deliveries. That is the hallmark of a good modern day batsman who can switch gears when he has to. And for an in form technically sound batsman who also happens to have a BSc degree in Mathematics, being calculative in a run chase is no big deal.

Apart from his skill set, his approach and his impressive numbers with the bat. There is something else about Rahul Tripathy that just makes him special and that humility with which he carries himself. Earlier in the tournament when he was interviewed by Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, Rahul addressed him as “Sir” five times in a five-minute chat.

After scoring a match winning 93 runs in the post match interview Rahul said “I’m just trying to middle the ball, this is all new for me [ the crowd], so I’m just trying to concentrate on what I can do.Watch the ball, hit the ball is my way. I know there are areas I need to improve, but I’m just doing what I can.”

Every time Rahul has spoken, there has always been a pleasant softness in his tone and softness as well. I firmly believe this modesty is going to stay and if it does, it will take him to newer heights. With RPS back in the top 3, they will be hoping that Rahul’s purple patch with bat helps them to get into the qualifiers and possibly even take them to silverware. And as far Rahul is concerned, in Ian Bishop’s legendary phrase “remember the smile”!


Written by Babasish Nanda

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