KL Rahul has a problem. And given the opening role he plays, so does India.
After the South Africa series, India’s selectors decided they were done with Rohit Sharma, the Test batsman. After the England series, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan were, on current form at least – deemed to not be good enough for Test cricket. The one man to survive the two tours despite not having a great time on either of them was Rahul.
His saving grace might have been that he ended the tour of England with a 149 that gave the team management hope that he had finally found his footing at the international level again. But the Tests against the West Indies are revealing that there is no quick fix to his problems.
A strange tendency has emerged in Rahul’s batting. In his last 13 innings, he has been dismissed bowled or leg before wicket 11 times. On away tours, you need your openers to have a compact defence. But if the opposition can keep getting Rahul out by just bowling at the stumps, he and India have a big problem.
KL Rahul's last 13 innings
|Since June 2018||Mode of dismissal||Scores|
|Afghanistan (Only Test)||Bowled||54|
|England (First Test)||Bowled||4|
|England (First Test)||Caught||13|
|England (Second Test)||Caught||8|
|England (Second Test)||LBW||10|
|England (Third Test)||LBW||23|
|England (Third Test)||Bowled||36|
|England (Fourth Test)||LBW||19|
|England (Fourth Test)||Bowled||0|
|England (Fifth Test)||Bowled||37|
|England (Fifth Test)||Bowled||149|
|West Indies (First Test)||LBW||0|
|West Indies (Second Test)||Bowled||4|
Now, this was the same Rahul, who scored big runs with ease during the last season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). His 649 runs in 14 matches had a stamp of class and most felt that it would herald a new phase of his career.
But it now seems those very runs have introduced a fatal flaw in his batting technique. Before the start of the Hyderabad Test, Rahul was seen working on the problem with Sanjay Bangar. The batting coach drew two straight lines, in line with the stumps, pitched the ball between and Rahul was being asked to defend the incoming delivery.
He has also tried to open up his stance so that his trigger movement doesn’t make him a sitting duck in front of his stumps. But it is clearly a work in progress.
It was a long session – almost two hours long – and that tells one that Rahul and the team management are aware of the problem. Still, when India came in to bat on day two of the second Test against the Windies, the opener scratched around during a nervy stay in the middle. Perhaps, it seemed even more awkward because at the other end, Prithvi Shaw was playing the West Indies bowlers with a fair degree of ease.
The point though is simple: Rahul can have his own approach to the game and he doesn’t need to try and match Shaw stroke-for-stroke. But he needs to do whatever he wants to, with confidence. As he is right now, the selectors should justifiably have serious doubts about picking him for Australia.
Opportunity for Mayank?
The team management seems to have decided that Rahul is their man. They seem to have decided that he will be the senior opener. So much so that they chose to not even give the third opener, Mayank Agarwal, a game.
But Rahul’s current form could open the door for Agarwal. His Test form has been anything but consistent and the haphazard evolution of his technique means that he may be running out of the long rope he has been given by Kohli.
India desperately need the rest of their batting line-up to get its act together and that change has to come at the top of the order. While Shaw has done enough to cement his place for the tour Down Under later this year, Rahul is in more than a spot of bother.
To succeed in Australia, one cannot have any doubts about their defensive technique. Certainly, not in manner, that Rahul does. At every given opportunity, Kohli likes to talk about how Test cricket is a mental game and that is the area where the opener seems to be faltering the most.
In an interview with Scroll.in, just before the start of the West Indies series, he had spoken about the England tour where he had a tough time before finally ending the tour with a superb 149.
“I don’t think anything extraordinary happened in the final Test. I was just very clear in my head. In the first two Test matches, I was stuck in between whether to play my natural game or whether to respect the bowlers, and the conditions.
It tends to happen to the best of batsmen when you tour a tough place like England, and you are caught in between all these thoughts. I think that’s what happened to me in the first few games. Yeah, it was my first England tour – difficult conditions and it was a great experience for a young player like me. Once I got used to the conditions, I realised I need to be true to my game and back my natural instincts. I am really happy I could finish the tour on a high.”
But the lessons of that knock now seem like a distant memory. Rahul certainly isn’t playing his natural game and he will need to rely on a certain amount of benevolence to keep his place in the team for the Australia tour.
Either which way, Mayank should have his hopes up at the moment. But will the team management risk having a fresh batting pair at the top of the order or will they stick with Rahul and hope that he finds a solution for what now seems to be a very obvious flaw?
Rahul’s class as a batsman is clear but at the moment, so are his technical problems. The opening pair is the foundation of success on any away tour and India have a few tough decisions to make in this regard.
Whether this means that Mayank will finally get the opportunity he deserves remains to be seen but for now Rahul’s failures mean that the team management has no option but to consider him.
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