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KL Rahul shows he can be more than an opening stop-gap

by Sarah Waris 5 minute read

From being one of the most skilled players in India to falling way down the pecking order, KL Rahul’s career has already had its twists and turns. Now, after a fifty in challenging conditions in the first Test against England, his international chapter is far from over, writes Sarah Waris.

On the second day of what can be termed his comeback Test, KL Rahul got a reprieve after Dom Sibley put down a sitter off the bowling of James Anderson. The ball — fractionally fuller from a man spitting venom — got a thick edge off an unsure Rahul’s bat, and carried to second slip, but the India batsman survived even as wickets around him were tumbling.

It almost seems like fate wants Rahul to succeed.

The 29-year-old last played a Test match in August 2019 against West Indies and managed scores of 44, 38, 13, and 6 in four innings. After a strong start to his Test career – Rahul scored four tons in his first 19 innings – his fosrtunes in the format declined as technical flaws came to the fore. His front foot would be planted across; his head, unstill. In an attempt to leave the outswinging ball alone, Rahul often played down the wrong line, which led to a number of lbw or bowled dismissals.

From January 2016 to December 2018, Rahul played 28 Tests and scored 1,640 runs at an average of 38.13, numbers that can in no way be called abysmal. However, 18 of his 42 dismissals were bowled or lbw, and though he did try to work on the position of his front foot, he was still late to the ball in the home series against West Indies in October 2018, when he scored 0, 4, and 33*. He was dismissed leg before once and was clean bowled by Jason Holder on the other occasion, and a string of similar dismissals along with inconsistent returns threatened to put an end to what had once been a promising career.

At the same time, however, he was building his reputation in white-ball cricket: in the 2018 IPL, Rahul scored 659 runs at an average of 54.91 and strike rate of 158.41. But while he thrived in coloured clothing, things went south against the red ball. His dismissals in Australia in 2018 were almost impatient: he was rooted inside his crease, his feet went nowhere as he looked for ambitious shots, and he was unable to convert his starts into big ones. Despite blunting the new ball, Rahul played a shot too many on occasions, and it just seemed like he was unable to find the right balance as he shifted between formats .While he has averaged 54.18 in ODIs and 36.90 in T20Is since the beginning of 2019, opportunities in Test cricket had dried up prior to this summer.

Yet things somehow fell into place for Rahul ahead of this Test. With Rishabh Pant missing the warm-up match against the County Select XI – Rahul took the gloves and hit his first-class ton since 2018 – and  Mayank Agarwal ruled out at the last minute, it was time for a comeback.

Against England, the batter was patient, got behind the line of the ball, and did not go after his shots mindlessly. He fought well, looked for his chances, and ended day two as India’s best batsman. Not only has he worked on his technical game but has shown that he still has the hunger to succeed at the biggest stage. There is more to come from KL Rahul, the Test batsman.

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