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In-form Opener KL Rahul Gives Indian Test Team Much Needed Relief

KL Rahul has been India's best batter up until the Lord's Test on the English tour.

Published
Cricket
4 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>KL Rahul celebrates his century at Lord's.</p></div>
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One of the cornerstones of India’s success in the ongoing Test series in England has been KL Rahul, at the top of the order, a slot on the line-up he quite enjoys being in. The stylish right-hander was in the form of his life recently in white-ball cricket, but red-ball cricket hadn’t quite worked out, yet.

Back in 2019, Rahul was having a tough time in Test cricket, even as India won in Australia and in West Indies, the right hander had no half-century to show in seven Tests. Fast forward to 2021, he’s put India in a position of advantage twice in England. The weather gods intervened once, but Rahul had done his job in both Nottingham and Lord’s.

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On the tour of England, Rahul has already scored a couple of centuries and a half century in five innings, and it is unlikely that he will drop out of the scheme of things. And he quite likes playing the English, his highest Test score of 199 came against them as well.

What Allowed the Comeback for Rahul?

The Karnataka man was part of the tour of England as a backup batter to begin with, however, an injury to Shubman Gill and a concussion for Mayank Agarwal put the Indian team in a spot of bother.

While Prithvi Shaw and Suryakumar Yadav joined the set-up and were in quarantine after their tour of Sri Lanka, Rahul seized his chance and put on good show in the warm-up game against the County XI, scoring 101 in the first innings where the only other player to register a score of note was Ravindra Jadeja (75).

High on confidence and with a stroke of luck, Rahul was back in the playing XI as Virat Kohli opted for experience over the untested Abhimanyu Easwaran.

And that confidence was on display at Lord’s as Rahul took the English bowlers, led by James Anderson, to the cleaners in their backyard, finishing with the player of the match award.

Topping the Charts on Tour

From not being part of the Test XI for two years to topping the scoring charts on an English tour, Rahul’s made his chance count. With three Tests to go, he’s got 345 runs to his name, 120 runs ahead of Ravindra Jadeja.

The opener batted in the middle order in the warm-up game when he scored 101 but was quickly back to his favoured opening slot in the Tests.

Considered to be one of the toughest places to play in, England has provided India’s batters quite a stern test of their ability, with the likes of Kohli copping criticism from Sunil Gavaskar.

While most Indian batters struggled to negotiate the movement and guile of the pacers, remaining unsure for most parts of their knocks, Rahul looked assured and like he’d never been away.

The hard yards in the nets were finally paying off as Rahul’s 84 helped India to a first innings lead in Nottingham. He scored 26 in the second innings and was dismissed by Stuart Broad before rain washed out the final day.

At Lord’s, Rahul once again led from the front, first by biding time and then bringing out his repertoire of classy shots. England’s bowlers’ shoulders dropped as Rahul’s score continued to increase, as did his confidence, and the depth in the Indian batting.

Rahul finished the first day unbeaten on 127 as Joe Root’s decision to field first fell flat on his face.

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No Confusion

Rahul, who will quickly change modes to the slam-bang T20s with Kings XI Punjab in the IPL after the Test series, is a distinctly different batter from his last tour of England in 2018, when he scored a century at The Oval.

"I was trying to play too many shots when I came here (in 2018)," Rahul said in an interview with Dinesh Karthik on Sky Sports at Lord's.

"I felt I used to have a lot of thoughts in mind, I felt that I could play two or three different shots for every given ball even in red-ball cricket, so that was something I realised I had to learn to control sometime when the going gets tough or when the wickets are challenging, or playing against good bowlers when the ball is swinging, you need to hold back some of the shots. Those were the things I tried to work on or those were the learnings from when I was failing in Test cricket," Rahul said after Day 3 of the second Test.

While that was 2018, Rahul made those learnings count three years later, making sure his initial movement in stance was controlled, which then resulted in a more assured approach.

"He was in control from ball one till we finished the day today. Very much in control," opening partner Rohit Sharma said after the first day's play at Lord’s.

"At no given point, it looked like he was confused or thinking too much. He was very clear with his plans and when you trust your plans, it definitely works. I thought today was his day and he made it really count," he added.

What This Means for Team India?

The new look Rahul along with Rohit at the top of the order adds a lot of depth for Kohli and co. The experienced pair have stood their own in some difficult conditions, paving the way for India’s middle order to build.

For now, Rahul has three more Tests to play and is well aware of how swiftly the BCCI brought in back-up players for the opening slot. Having ironed out his flaws, Rahul will be eager once again, but this time with more in the armoury.

If Rahul can continue in his merry ways, it takes away some of the pressure from the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, none of whom have been their convincing selves, ensuring an easier batting innings.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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