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Time is running out for KL Rahul


KL_Rahul_India_Test_CricketWay back in 2011, Rahul Dravid walked out to open the innings for India at The Oval in conditions that were difficult for batting. His vigil at the crease lasted six hours and 266 balls. Even as the team folded for 300 in response to England's 591, Dravid carried his bat and made nearly 50% of those runs – 146 high quality runs, not out, to save the face of his side.

Seven years later at the very same ground, his namesake opened the batting for India in the fifth and final Test of the series and made a stunning 149 after his team was reduced to 2 for 3. That knock, unlike in the case of Dravid, was preceded by scores of 4, 13, 8, 10, 23, 36, 19, 0, 37 and 0.

KL Rahul is probably the most talented batsman in India. But his inconsistency has been a monkey on the back for the Indian team’s management. After lambasting England's potent bowling attack at The Oval, Rahul's form has once again slumped and the runs have been lean in Australia and the West Indies.

If it were not for Prithvi Shaw's ban, Rahul would probably have been playing the India A series against South Africa A rather than the Tests in West Indies. The Karnataka opener has had a gruelling time in Test cricket after a rosy honeymoon period.

Since 2018, Rahul's average is a shocking 22.23 in 15 Test matches. Aside from the century at the Oval, his only fifty-plus score is at home against a weak and inexperienced Afghanistan bowling attack. His career average was a fairly impressive 44.62 before 2018 but now, after his failure in the Caribbean Islands, it has dropped to 34.58.

What's damning is how Rahul has failed to iron out a glaring weakness in his technique that showed up quite evidently in England. He was out bowled or lbw nine successive times in Tests - a period that spanned Tests in South Africa, England and India. That an opener had such a glaring flaw go unrectified through three series is unacceptable.

He fails to get starts, and on the rare occasions he does, fails to convert them. In his 61 Test innings, more than half - 33 - of his knocks have ended before 20. Furthermore, nearly half of that (16) did not even require a fielder.

Rahul has been bowled or lbw 24 times in his career. 19 of them have come against pace bowlers, 16 of them against right arm pace bowlers in particular. In the early stage of his innings, the opener is extremely susceptible to this weakness. It’s not as if he isn't aware of this.

Rahul has altered his backlift in the last couple of series. In Australia and later in West Indies, his bat, which was earlier pointing to the slip cordon, has been more towards the keeper. But the failures have continued, unabated. After struggling against Jason Holder and Kemar Roach through the two Tests in West Indies, it is evident that Rahul's problem is two-fold:

●    One, he has a technical issue when the ball angles into him.

●    Two, he is so aware of this that he tries to cover that weakness in anticipation of the ball coming in and ends up edging behind the stumps.

This would leave India with little choice but to omit him because the excuse of “his talent” has clearly gone well beyond admissible limits. Right through the West Indies tour, Rahul kept playing inside the line of the ball and the seamers exploited this by getting the ball to straighten after angling it in, clearly playing with his mind.

In England, while none of the top-order batsmen were bowled or lbw more than three times, Rahul was dismissed in such a fashion a whopping eight times. Murali Vijay and Dinesh Karthik, who showed similar issues, were dropped mid-way through the series but a longer rope was given to Rahul.

Even after his failures persisted in the home series against West Indies, where Shannon Gabriel had him trapped in front, and in the Australia tour, Rahul was carried to the Caribbean Islands as one of only two openers alongside Mayank Agarwal. While Agarwal has appeared more composed, Rahul is clearly in a mental battle with himself while struggling to deal with his exposed technical shortcomings.

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