KL Rahul – India’s All-purpose Shapeshifter

The first seven deliveries KL Rahul faced on Day 2 – after India lost Yashasvi Jaiswal in the first over of the day to Joe Root in the 1st India vs England Test in Hyderabad – were tentative at best. He got an edge off the first delivery he faced leaning forward, got hit on the pads, and played one delivery rather uppishly just wide of short leg. His first run was a backfoot push to covers off Tom Hartley off the 8th delivery.

He would soon rock back once again, to Root, picking the length early to find the gap behind deep point; and this was one of the striking qualities of KL Rahul’s 86 on the slow Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium track – his backfoot play, something which was missing from Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer’s innings. He assessed the pace of the pitch early and adapted quickly.

Also Read: KL Rahul Imperious as India Punish Listless England

The England spinners, barring Root, either bowled too full or were a tad bit short. To fuller deliveries, Rahul ensured he reached the pitch of the deliveries to tap them mostly towards the on-side, but he picked up the length on shorter deliveries, got himself into position to exploit the gap on either side of point with aplomb. It was a release shot for him and a safe way to tick along the scorecard.

With the Uppal track on the slower side, adjusting to the spin – whatever little amount England spinners managed – was much easier. The legspinner Rehan Ahmed was the only bowler you could manage to skid the ball through on a few occasions, and then also, Rahul had the wherewithal to bring out his defensive play. Batting on 47, Rehan almost breached Rahul’s defences with an 88 kmph flat leg break that skidded on, but Rahul would chop it to covers.

Another breathtaking shot came off pacer Mark Wood, again on the back foot, an affirmative push that was timed to perfection. Once again, Rahul was in position early and allowed the ball to come to him, opened the face and timed it to perfection. More than half of the singles he scored in the innings came between cover and backward point apart from two boundaries.

Watching him bat with such ease and with such control, it is surprising to know that he averages in the mid-thirties only in Tests despite 50 matches under his belt. A major reason for that is out of the 85 innings he has batted in Tests he has opened in 75 of them, and 38 out of those 75 have been in SENA countries – a tough proposition for any opener and his averages overseas as an opener is in the same range as his career average, which is a commendable effort.

Rahul is a top-order batter by trade, and his initiation to Test cricket was a trial by fire – at the MCG in 2014. He batted at No.6 and No.3 for scores of 3 and 1. He was picked for that tour on the back of a stellar Ranji season in which he had scored over 1000 runs and then added twin hundreds in the Duleep Trophy final for good measure.

After his first Test, Rahul went on to occupy the opening slot for a fair while, starting with a brilliant 110 at Sydney in only his 2nd Test, For the next five years, Rahul opened for India in Tests, with mixed returns. Seven hundreds and 12 fifties, including the marvellous 149 at the Oval.

He would lose his spot at the top to a debuting Shubman Gill in 2020 and return at the top in 2021 with scores of 84 and 123 in the England series. A player of the match knock in Centurion was then followed by leading the side in the Johannesburg Test. Yet he was not able to string together substantial scores at a stretch and injuries played their part in his absence, and with the top order filling up with quite a few names, once he was back, Rahul’s batting order had to be shuffled – as has been the case in ODIs for him.

When Gill failed to get the nod for the 1st two Tests of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, it was once again Rahul who moved up to open with Rohit Sharma. He has also batted at No.3 three times in 2018 with one fifty to show for his efforts.

For the overseas tour of South Africa late last year, with Jaiswal now occupying the top spot – Rahul was brought down to No.6 and he responded with a brilliant 101 at Centurion.

Two innings later, Rahul is filling in at a new position – No.4 – in Virat Kohli’s absence and what does he do – adapts and scores an imperious 86. After the second Test when Kohli returns to his preferred No.4 spot, Rahul will most likely go back to No.5 or could bat at No.3 at the expense of Gill. And he will once more do the job without much fuss.

Sample this: In his 50 Tests, KL Rahul has opened the innings, batted at No.3, No.6, now at No.4, has led the team and is the preferred wicketkeeper abroad. He is currently India’s go-to man, an all-purpose shapeshifter if you will.

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