“KL Rahul is hanging on for dear life but using up the rope quickly. The frayed ends at the edge of the cliff are visible, and it won’t be long before it snaps”
The past one year has seen a merry-go-round at the top of the Indian Test batting order. Vijay-Rahul, Vijay-Dhawan, Vijay-Parthiv, Dhawan-Rahul, Rahul-Shaw… Kohli has tried it all, and the one person who has had the most chances there is KL Rahul.
The selectors and the team management have reposed their faith in the 26-year old from Bangalore who started well in first-class cricket, excelled in the white ball format and burst on to the Test scene four years ago. With Vijay and Dhawan in the 30’s, Rahul appeared to be the man who would occupy the top slot for some time to come. When the opening pair repeatedly failed in England, it was established opener Vijay who was dropped and Rahul persisted with. And when he responded with a brilliant 149 at the Oval in the final Test, the decision seemed justified.
But the problem is that the single score of 149 aided by Virat Kohli’s ongoing magnificent performances is hiding a full year of abject failures from KL Rahul.
Rahul has played 20 innings since November 2017. In that time he has scored just two fifties and the lone century. Only eight more times has he managed to get to double figures. He has been averaging 23.65 per innings and if you take out the 149 his average drops to 17.05 for the other 19 innings.
As Rohit Sankar pointed out in a recent piece on CricketNext, in the last 9 innings out of 20, Rahul’s dismissals have not involved a fielder. He has been bowled six times and trapped lbw thrice. In fact, almost 42% of the dismissals in his career have involved these two methods. He is clearly susceptible to the ball coming into him and leaves a significant gap between bat and pad. When he has them together, he misses the line when the ball swings in. Unsurprisingly, all this tends to happen early in his innings. Given that he has only got to 50 three times in the last 20 innings, this is a vicious cycle that he appears to be trapped in.
Despite his travails thus far he has been persisted with. But for how low much longer is the question.
Murali Vijay over the same period has played 14 innings and scored 525 runs at an average of 37.5. In that time he has also scored 3 hundreds against Rahul’s sole three-figure effort. The third opener in the mix, Shikhar Dhawan in his 15 innings has managed 493 runs at 32.87 with one century and two fifties, just like Rahul. They both find themselves out of Test reckoning and being forced to make the climb back up the mountain of domestic cricket. But even on that climb, they have competition with younger and fresher legs,
27-year old Mayank Agarwal with a first-class average over 50 and impressive performances for India A, and 19-year old Shubman Gill with an average just below 50 from a short first-class career are repelling up the same cliff. They are using every opportunity in sight to lay their claim to that spot alongside 18-year old Prithvi Shaw, who in just two Test matches, has announced his arrival as a talent in a stunning manner that no opener after Sunil Gavaskar has managed in the last five decades.
KL Rahul is hanging on for dear life but using up the rope quickly. The frayed ends at the edge of the cliff are visible, and it won’t be long before it snaps. He perhaps has one innings to turn things around. If he doesn’t do it now, the next journey he makes down under may not be on a jet plane.