That’s where KL Rahul must have found himself when he walked out in the company of captain Rohit Sharma to begin the chase, knowing that a good knock could help him retain his place in the playing XI and another low score could be the last straw that would break the proverbial camel’s back.
In short, Rahul was batting for his place. He needed to maximise his stay in the middle. He needed to score as many runs as possible. He needed to fight. And he must have come out determined to give his best. He needed luck to be on his side.
However, he would last just three balls, scoring one run. His luck, more than anything else, had abandoned him. It was a nothing ball: short, on the leg stump and drifting further down the leg. LBW was out of the question. Rahul was careful not to try and hit it with a cross bat to rule out the possibility of a top edge. He cautiously glanced it towards square leg and timed it well. The short-leg fielder couldn’t have caught it, it was too quick for him. It should have been a safe and easy single. But it wasn’t. The ball hit Peter Handscomb’s right pad at the short-leg and bounced up in the air towards the wicketkeeper Alex Carey, who completed a simple catch with reverse cup. Rahul shook his head in disbelief and left the field shrouded in gloom.
He was definitely unlucky in this one instance but his continued failure to be consistent can’t be blamed on luck. The fault lies somewhere else.
The latest failure has probably, and hopefully, exhausted his huge quota of opportunities. But let’s not be too sure about it considering the kind of support he has so far enjoyed. On Sunday, the BCCI also reaffirmed its faith in Rahul by retaining him in the squad for the remaining two Tests against Australia.
He may not play in the next Test in Indore or the one thereafter in Ahmedabad but it’s definitely not the end of the road for Rahul. And it shouldn’t be. He is no doubt a talented batter and doors should not be closed on such a player. But, elite sport is not about talent but performance in the form of runs and wickets. Unless a player is not able to convert that talent into performance, it’s as good as a household struggling to make ends meet despite having fortune in the bank. There is no dearth of talent in India. If one is not performing, let’s move on to others before it’s too late. Rahul has got more than enough opportunities to show some consistency.
Rahul has seven centuries and 13 fifties in 81 innings of 47 Tests. That means he gets a fifty-plus score in every 4.05 innings. But a detailed look will tell you that four of those seven hundreds had come within two years of debut, i.e. between 2014 and 2016.
Since the beginning of 2017, he has just three centuries in Tests. Between his fourth and fifth centuries, there was a gap of almost two years and 16 Tests. But he managed 10 fifties in that duration to keep his place in the side.
With experience, one is expected to become consistent. That, however, hasn’t happened with Rahul. His consistency went down further after his fifth century. Since that 149 at The Oval against England in September 2018, Rahul has been part of 18 Tests and managed to score only two centuries and two fifties. That comes to 8.25 innings per fifty-plus score.
Since his last hundred, a 123 against South Africa at Centurion in December 2021, Rahul has only one fifty in 11 innings of six Tests. Apart from that one fifty, he doesn’t even have a 25 in the rest of the 10 innings. That’s how severely out of form he is at the moment, in Test cricket at least.
Cheteshwar Pujara, who has a much better record than Rahul, was dropped for going 27 Tests without a century despite getting 12 fifty-plus scores in that period. He went to England and smashed hundreds after hundreds to force the selectors to bring him back.
Shikhar Dhawan and Mayank Agarwal, both of whom have a better record than Rahul as a Test opener, were dropped for not scoring a fifty in five Tests each.
Without suggesting that the team management is indulging in some sort of favouritism here, the numbers, whichever way you dissect them, don’t support Rahul’s inclusion. It’s probably time to relieve him from the Test side and encourage him to work on his game outside the scrutiny and challenges of Test cricket. Though it seems difficult since Rahul plays other formats too and is captain of an IPL team, there is no justification of his continued presence in India’s Test dressing room.