“His dismissal in the fourth Test again highlighted the same nagging problem where Rahul fell to a ball that nipped in late”
After KL Rahul scored one of his best tons in just his second match in Australia in 2014/15, the Indians were quick to label him as a Test specialist who had the temperament and the technique to excel in the longer formats. Battling against the Kookaburra for the first time, Rahul was an image of calmness as he gritted it out in swinging, seaming and bouncy conditions with the pair of Ryan Harris and Josh Hazlewood in searing form.
In the heat of Sydney, Rahul handled the pace from Mitchell Starc with relative ease, displaying an immaculate awareness of his off-stump to get to his hundred after a forgettable debut. The way he exhibited his mental strength – be it in playing inside the line of the ball or waiting for the hardball to lose its firmness – meant that the player was on route for greater feats but his repeated failures in England forces one to look at all the things that have gone wrong for him in the last four years.
Technique-wise, Rahul has started hitting the ball through the line and has started to attack balls that are pitched outside the off-stump – the biggest wrongs while playing Test cricket. Since childhood, every aspiring batsman is asked to leave balls that are away from the off-stump and to leave as many balls as possible when the ball is still new. But by constantly hitting the new ball through the line in this series, Rahul has opened himself to failures and downfalls.
However, it is not that his basic knowledge of the off-stump is awry. He is intent to leave the ball alone but ends up having a swipe at it in the very last moment. His dismissal at Edgbaston in the first innings showed how he was eager to bring his T20 facet into Tests as well – playing through the line of wide balls with a bottom-handed grip in an attempt to score faster runs when he should have instead left the ball alone or should have played it late. Here, his commitment to a drive from the bottom grip made an ordinary Sam Curran delivery look outstanding and his inability to segregate the T20 aspect of his play from the whites is disturbing.
The double mind over playing an off-stump delivery or leaving it dates back to the tour of South Africa earlier this year when he seemed visibly uncomfortable against the Kookaburra ball’s early seam movement. He found it hard to let balls that should have been left alone pass by and his T20 mindset, where he has been highly successful lately, of not letting a ball go to waste did catch up on him. Eventually, he ended the tour with just 30 runs in 4 innings at a dismal average of 7.50 looking in all sorts of a mess against the new ball. Unable to play the ball late and finding it hard to leave balls outside off, Rahul was unable to shield the middle-order and his inclusion, which was on the basis of him having a better technique than Shikhar Dhawan backfired.
In the ongoing series where he was facing the Duke balls, Rahul changed his technique just a wee bit in the third Test. He was now shuffling across while still using the bottom-handed grip against the new ball. However, it led to his dismissal in the second innings as his backfoot was unable to come across towards the off-stump as the ball pitched, which resulted in a loss of balance. His head fell across to leave a huge gap between pad and bat as he was attempting an off-drive. Though he had scored some crucial runs for his team, the cracks in his technique were visible and with a young Prithvi Shaw in the ranks, Rahul can barely afford any more slip-ups.
His dismissal in the fourth Test again highlighted the same nagging problem where Rahul fell to a ball that nipped in late. The opener was on his back foot in the hope of flicking the ball off his pads but the Stuart Broad delivery that was pitched full came back in and pushed him further back into the crease. As he was out LBW, the Indian will know in his deepest of hearts that he just has one more innings to rectify his flaws before Shaw snatches away the spot.