With a target of 115 to be chased at the Arun Jaitley Stadium, Indian openers – KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma - came out to bat with some confidence in the second Border-Gavaskar Test in Delhi. And they started positively with six runs off the first over.
Inevitably, Nathan Lyon comes in to bowl the second over. He starts with a flat delivery on the pads. Rahul is good with his wrists and whips it on the leg side. The ball hits forward short leg’s knee and lobs back to Alex Carey who is keeping wickets. Rahul gets dismissed for one.
Lyon had now dismissed Rahul second time in the Test and the sixth time in his career. He has been dismissed the most in Test cricket by the Australian off-spinner.
The dismissal was an evidence not only to the fact Rahul has been struggling for a while, but his luck also has been in a similar situation. However, that was probably the last time we saw him in whites, at least for a while. It’s not just a futile opinion, but something that the numbers too suggest.
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Rahul’s 47-match Test career can be a story possible of being divided into two halves. While the first half might glorify him to be one of the most promising batters, the other half shows his downfall.
Rahul averaged in 30s in his first 10 Tests but soon moved into 40s. His average took off in his 15th Test and went on as high as 46.27 in the 19th Test. It kept fluctuating, but stayed over 40 until the 24th Test.
Then came the dreaded series in England in August 2018 that brought Rahul’s average down to 38.53 after scoring just one century in five games. In fact, the century in the last match saved his average from going down to mid 30s.
Since then, he has lost the control on accelerator and has gone down the hill at swift pace.
With just two more centuries and two half-centuries in the next 18 Tests, his average has dropped to 33.44 after 47 Tests.
To throw more light on his recent performances, Rahul’s last century came in December 2021 against South Africa in Centurion (123). Two innings later, he hit a half-century (50) in Johannesburg. His average in his next 10 innings has been 12.5 with a highest score of 23.
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While Rahul led the side against South Africa at the start of 2022 and then against Bangladesh towards the end, he was removed from the position of vice-captain and later replaced in the playing XI as well within first two months of 2023.
The performances seemingly have plotted questions in the BCCI and team management’s minds. More interestingly, performances, or lack of thereof have also plotted questions in the opener’s own mind.
What adds weight to this assumption is that while he averages 37.2 in his first 30 balls, his average drops down to 15.3 in next 60 balls he faces.
Rahul’s Strike Rate also goes down from 34.83 (first 30 balls) to 29.59 (next 60 balls). Instead of feeling comfortable at the crease after a start, he seems to get into a bubble suffocating himself.
It seems like Rahul’s best years with the bat are quite past him. He averaged 59.88 in 2016 and 48.69 in 2017 – the time when he enjoyed a purple patch in whites. After a couple of futile years, he again averaged 46.1 in 2021. Since then, he has averaged 17.12 in 2022 and 12.66 in 2023 (effectively the Border-Gavaskar Trophy).
For Rahul to make a comeback to the Test side, he will have to work on quite a few things. His average in the third and fourth innings have been 23.47 and 25.91 respectively. He will have to learn to stay longer and score when the pitch has wearied out in the later part of Tests.
While he averages 44.71 against spinners, Rahul’s average tumbles to 29.81 against pacers. He will also have to make sure that he is able to see off the pacers, especially in overseas conditions.
Rahul has been caught 50 times in his career, 22 of which have been to the wicket-keeper. A significant number of the other 28 would be in the cordon. To add to this, 36 of these caught dismissals have been against pacers. These numbers, if read together, show a pattern that he is edging to the pacers and giving catches behind the wickets.
It will be harsh to say that Rahul’s career in Tests is done and dusted as he has the calibre to make a strong comeback. But he will have to make a significant improvement in his skills and more in his mindset before he comes back.
While Shubman Gill will take his place for the time being, Rahul can evaluate if he wants to make a comeback in Tests or focus on the white-ball format wherein he has proved to be a lot more consistent.
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