KL Rahul is at peace with himself. The soft-spoken batsman is one of those rare cricketers who is fighting a constant, sometimes fierce battle with his inner self. The strive for excellence, the sheer zeal of outdoing his own self, has at times left Rahul drained out. But not anymore. Of late, there has been a change.
Be it batting in the middle-order in red-ball cricket, donning the gloves for 90 overs or opening up about his dark days of self-doubt in front of the camera, Rahul seems at ease even in alien territories. He no longer appears to be fretting over the outcome of the battle within.
“I’ve never really worried about confidence. It’s my self-belief that has gotten me so far, but it’s about maintaining a calm head, learning from your mistakes. I’m just enjoying my game. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve learnt from them,” Rahul told BCCI in an interview that seemed as natural as his drives through the covers. The truce between him and his inner self was not evident but certainly not invisible.
It’s hard to say whether Sunil Gavaskar watched the 3-minute 56-second-long interview, in which Rahul talks about maturing as a player with such level headedness and a certain sense of satisfaction, that it would even make the legendary cricketer proud. But Gavaskar saw enough of Rahul on the cricket field during the warm-up match to vouch for his return to the Test XI.
“With KL Rahul scoring a hundred in the three-day game that we played, he should be the one partnering Rohit Sharma,” Gavaskar told Hindustan Times during a select media interaction ahead of India vs England 1st Test in Nottingham starting on August 4.
India haven’t had a set opening pair in red-ball cricket ever since Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay parted ways. Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma showed signs of continuity – they opened in India’s last 8 Tests – but the former not being available for the five-match series against England due to an injury brought India back to square one.
India have used five different opening pairs in their previous two trips to England – Rahul featuring in two of the combinations – but none of them yielded results. Take England away as the host and India have used 9 different pairs since 2018 – more than any team in the same time frame.
Gavaskar believes Rahul can put an end to this and partner Rohit Sharma, who has emerged as the confirmed opener in Tests, for long.
“Mayank Agarwal has had an outstanding season in 2019 but in the last series in Australia, he struggled a bit. On the other hand, Rahul would be high on confidence after scoring that hundred. He is someone I would look at for opening the batting and not Pujara to go up the order,” Gavaskar said hours before it was confirmed that Agarwal was ruled out of the first Test due to a concussion.
“Don’t forget, the last Test match that Rahul played in England, he got a hundred so with that in mind, we might look at Rahul as an opener ahead of Mayank,” Gavaskar added.
Numbers play a tricky game with Rahul. Yes, he got a hundred in his last Test in England in 2018, which was also the last time an Indian opener notched up three figures in an overseas Test but the right-hander played only played 9 red-ball games since that 149-run knock including a Ranji Trophy semi-final and the three-day first-class game against County XI last month.
In the last three years, Rahul has opened in most away Tests (11) among all Indian batsmen but his average of 22.70 does not ooze confidence.
Considering that the Indian team management now wants Rahul to be treated as a middle-order batsman, and he also got the hundred in the practice game while batting at No.5, does not provide the ideal setting for him to take on the new ball in Trent Bridge. But with injuries to two of their openers, it looks likely that Indian team management would want to fall back to Rahul.
“The openers play a very important role because they lay the foundation. I’m not talking about the Sehwags, I’m talking about the conventional openers. They pave the way, convert a broken road into a highway for the Ferraris and Lamborghinis to come and drive. Openers are the ones who do all the hard work benefits of which the No. 4, 5, 6 are able to reap,” Gavaskar said, highlighting the importance of the opening pair.
India, however, have failed to build that road lately. Their openers average 22.96 in away Tests since 2018, marginally better than the lowest team West Indies’ 20.10. But just like Rahul found peace of mind, it shouldn’t be a surprise if also finds an answer to India’s opening woes.
(Watch India tour of England from August 4, LIVE on SONY SIX channels from 3.30 pm IST)