KL Rahul in Indian WC Squad – Delight in the Making, or Disaster-In-Waiting?

Amid criticism, KL Rahul has been backed to the hilt by the team management. Now, it is his turn to deliver.

5 min read
Hindi Female

It was the worst-kept secret in world cricket when India’s provisional 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup squad was unveiled this afternoon in Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Everyone knew that this would be the final fifteen that the selectors would come up with, when chief selector Ajit Agarkar named it finally. This was pretty much the squad that anyone would have chosen, if you have followed Indian cricket for a while now.

India’s best available squad with all bases covered gives them the best chance to win the World Cup that they last won at home in 2011, in grand style. But to get to this stage, India have had to jump a few hoops along the way.

There have been several bumps on the road with key players being injured and then going under the knife, thereby threatening their careers. The key players that we are talking about are – KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer and Jasprit Bumrah.

Of these three, Iyer and Bumrah have made a return to the line-up during the Asia Cup, but with Rahul, everyone is still unsure. The team management backs Rahul completely, which is also because he is their first-choice wicketkeeper in ODI cricket. The love affair with Rahul started in January 2020 when he started keeping wickets for India in white ball cricket.


The Many Factors at Play in KL Rahul’s Selection

That also happened by chance because the then-regular choice, Rishabh Pant got injured and Rahul stepped in to take his place. Thereafter, whenever India played white-ball cricket, Rahul was the first choice to keep wickets. It was only when India’s first-choice players got injured on the historic Australia tour of 2020-21 that Pant finally snatched the gloves back from Rahul.

But for a while, Rahul and Pant played musical chairs in the white-ball format. In between, Dinesh Karthik also stepped into the fray till the T20 World Cup in 2022. And then, tragedy struck with Pant getting injured in a car accident and later Rahul also injuring himself.


Sanju Samson Was Not Considered

The vacant wicket-keeper role fell in the hands of Ishan Kishan. The Jharkhand-born player grabbed the opportunity with both hands and smashed a double hundred in Bangladesh, when all appeared lost! In between all these mini battles, there was another young man who was stepping in whenever required – Sanju Samson.

Samson was heavily utilised when Shikhar Dhawan was leading a second-string side in ODI cricket, over the past two years. India’s first-choice players were busy playing T20 cricket, so Dhawan’s team played ODIs, and Samson scored runs.

Ideally, Samson should therefore have been in the running as a reserve batter and ‘keeper. But it was not to be. Samson was an also ran, because those runs and his performances did not count as they came when the big boys were away!

Now the sole claimant for the ODI keeper’s slot was Kishan. Since stepping in to fill the breach, Kishan did well and became the sole claimant for the role. Samson also twisted his ankle along the way making it easy for Kishan.


Despite Criticism, Rahul Has Retained Team Management’s Trust

Somehow, Rahul remained the man for the team management. For the past five months, everyone in Indian cricket and its premier training facility in Bengaluru at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) has been working hard to get him back on the field. He has played several practice games, toiled hard in the nets and has been put through several tests.

But just when it appeared all was well, Rahul suffered a niggle again. Now that he has been declared fit, Rahul has walked back straight into the XI without as much as a murmur from any corner. Over the past few years, no name in Indian cricket has divided people as much as Rahul has.

He first became a bone of contention in Test cricket and then finally lost his place in the longer format earlier this year. He was India’s stand-in Test captain in Bangladesh and South Africa last year, but form kept deserting him constantly.

Then he became the butt of all jokes during the T20 World Cup in 2022 for his safety-first approach. He was then demoted from next in line to be India’s T20 captain to a complete outcast in the format. ODI cricket is the only format where Rahul deserved a place based on his performances. But just when it appeared that he was keeping up with his promise, he got injured and had to slip down the pecking order.

But just when it appeared that he was keeping up with his promise, he got injured and had to slip down the pecking order.


Pressure To Deliver Is More Immense Than Ever Before

It is only because of his performances with the bat and his utility with the gloves, that the Indian think-tank backs him completely. They have supported him through his rehab phase and are keen for him to come back into the scheme of things instantly.

Despite being picked in the World Cup squad, however, doubts remain about whether he is fully fit and whether he can deliver like in the past. If recent memory is anything to go by, Rahul is just one odd failure away from being India’s biggest talking point during the World Cup. He has been the one blamed for everything in Indian cricket in the past couple of years and if things don’t stack up well, Rahul should be in for more ridicule in the coming two months.

These couple of months will decide the legacy of skipper Rohit Sharma, head coach Rahul Dravid, and Rahul as well. He has slipped from being the next in line for captaincy and has been demoted as vice-captain. He is now one of the foot soldiers, so the pressure on Rahul to deliver is immense.


India Know They Have Gambled

India know that they have gambled with Rahul and they cannot afford a repeat of the mistakes of the recent past with fitness recoveries. Rahul appears confident, and so do the powers that be.

India, anyway, will have the opportunity to make changes to their World Cup squad till 28 September, which gives them a good five to six games to test Rahul.

But now the bigger question is – what to do with Ishan Kishan? He has performed with the bat at crucial times and has stepped up to the challenge in style. Do they junk Kishan or make changes at the top of the order? These are some queries that will keep Dravid, Sharma & Co awake all night in the lead-up to the World Cup.

But what is a Cricket World Cup without confusion in the Indian ranks about selection? This has been a trend in Indian cricket since the 1990s and will continue to be so, because of lack of clarity in the roles.

Long live Indian cricket! Or, is it Bharatiya cricket? We will know soon.

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