KL Rahul & Rishabh Pant: The Chinks in Team India’s Batting Armour
While Rahul managed only 101 runs in 4 innings, Pant scored 58 runs in his 3 outings in the Test series vs Windies.
In limited-overs cricket, Team India’s top-order cuts the task for the middle-order more often than not. The situation in Tests, however, is reversed.
In the recently concluded two-match Test series against West Indies, the likes of Virat Kohli at number four, Ajinkya Rahane at number five and Hanuma Vihari at number six saved the day for the side with their batting.
But the batting failures of openers KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, and Cheteshwar Pujara paint an apt picture of the team’s predicament.
Mayank’s solitary fifty in the series and Pujara’s illustrious Test career so far – more recently, his successful tour of Australia – give the duo some breathing space. But what to make of Rahul?
Rahul has been a regular feature at the top of the batting order in Tests, since January 2018, but his inconsistency with the bat has hardly helped his case.
Now or Never For Rahul
In the Test series in West Indies, Rahul managed scores of 44, 38, 13 and 6 respectively in four innings. If he wasted opportunities to convert his starts into high scores in the first Test in Antigua, he didn't even get starts in the next encounter in Jamaica .
But Rahul’s misery with the bat in the Caribbean isn’t an isolated case. His recent Test numbers don’t paint a rosy picture either.
Rahul hasn’t managed a fifty-plus score since his 149 against England at the Oval 12 innings ago, in September. In fact, before that, he had managed only one half-century in his last 15 innings.
Time is running out for Rahul. It won’t be a surprise if he is dropped for the next Test series against South Africa, beginning next month. Rohit Sharma is already waiting in the wings for the opener’s slot after Rahane booked a spot in the middle-order with a splendid outing with the bat against Windies.
Rohit, who scored a bucket load of runs in the World Cup – 648 to be precise, including five centuries – will be itching to carry on his ODI form into Test cricket.
Even former captain Sourav Ganguly has batted for Rohit and said that he should be given an opportunity at the top of the batting order in Tests, instead of continuing with Rahul, who he believes has failed to impress.
“ … KL Rahul, though, has flattered to deceive and that creates an opening at the top. I had suggested earlier about trying Rohit Sharma as an opener in Test cricket and I still believe that he needs to be given an opportunity because he is too good a player to be left out in the cold.”Sourav Ganguly in his column for The Times of India
If not Rohit, Rahul might end up losing his place to young Prithvi Shaw, who is currently suspended till November for an anti-doping violation. Shaw had a dream start to his Test career, when Kohli and Co last played a Test in India.
Not only Ganguly, even VVS Laxman has pulled up Rahul for wasting his opportunities.
“… the greater concern is over Rahul. His ability is never under question, and he is no longer a newcomer to Test cricket. He has got numerous opportunities, but he has often flattered to deceive.”VVS Laxman
If Rahul is lucky enough to play the three-match series against South Africa at home, it should be ‘now or never’ for the Karnataka batsman because with the World Test Championship at stake, skipper Kohli won’t like to have any chinks in Team India’s fortified armour, especially at the top of the batting order.
Pant Can’t Afford to Take Life Easy
Meanwhile, Rahul isn’t the only batter whose form is cause of concern for the Indian dressing room.
Wicketkeeper Pant has also attracted attention for all the wrong reasons due to his batting. Pant’s tally of only 58 runs from three innings in the Test series against West Indies has also raised a lot of eyebrows regarding the youngster’s temperament in the longer format of the game.
More than getting dismissed, it was the way he was getting dismissed that was creating all the frustration. His inability to gauge situations, converting his starts and most importantly giving away his wicket at times when his team needed him to play sensibly, might end up denting his Test fortunes, despite him having two Test centuries, that too outside India.
Pant had ample opportunity this time around to play long and fruitful innings.
With West Indies bowlers striking early and troubling the Indian top-order, the middle-order had an opportunity to shine.
The likes of Rahane, Vihari and Jadeja used the opportunities well to tilt the balance in their favour and cement a spot in the side. Even Ishant Sharma also brought up his maiden Test fifty in the series.
Unfortunately, Pant was the only one who failed to leave any kind of impression with the bat.
With veteran Wriddhiman Saha back in the dressing room, Pant knows very well that he can’t take things for granted for too long. And how can we forget 25-year-old KS Bharat, who was on the verge of a maiden Test call-up ahead of the Windies series.
In fact, chief selector MSK Prasad has already said Bharat's performances have impressed him and his colleagues and he might be considered for some other series later in the year.
“… the stellar performances that KS Bharat is doing, in India A, last three series he has got three centuries and he picked up about 50 dismissals, which is a fantastic thing and he was very, very close and these are Rishabh, KS and Wriddhiman Saha are three guys we will be looking at Test cricket for some time.”MSK Prasad, chief selector
With the threat of Saha and Bharat looming large, Pant can’t afford to rest on the laurels of his short Test career.
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