In recent times, KL Rahul has emerged as the answer to most of the Indian cricket team’s questions. When they needed a stable batsman to open the innings for them in Tests, Rahul delivered in that role for them. Moreover, he also helped them to sort out their middle order woes in limited-overs cricket, becoming a reliable batsman in those positions in that format as well.
As far as Test cricket is concerned, consecutive scores of 50 or more in his last seven innings would suggest that he is in a superb run of form. He played just one game in the recently concluded three-match Test series against Sri Lanka. However, he scored 142 runs at an average of 71. Moreover, before he suffered a serious injury that ruled him out of the Indian squad for the Champions Trophy 2017, Rahul had scored 393 runs in the four-match Test series against Australia at a superb average of 56.14.
He has eight scores of 50 or more in his last 10 innings in Tests. However, Test cricket is not about those little 50s and 60s, especially for an opener. It is more about converting those 50s into 100s and then those hundreds into massive 150s and 200s.
Seeing off the new ball is the most difficult task in Test cricket. And it is a grave sin to throw your wicket away if you have seen off that period and weathered the storm. Rahul is guilty of committing this very mistake. He will see off the new ball, play elegant strokes from the very start of his innings, score at a steady and healthy rate. Most of the times, you will see him getting past his fifty in quick time. And then a rush of blood is all he needs to throw away his wicket.
He did the same thing in the last Test match of the series against Sri Lanka. He looked to be well on course to the fifth century of his career when he was batting on 85. However, he decided to take on Malinda Pushpakumara and played a needless shot. The result was his dismissal as he failed to clear mid-on.
That was not the only time something like that happened. He could well have scored the first double ton of his career in the series against England in 2016. He was batting on 199 in the match at Chennai. However, he decided to go for a big shot off Adil Rashid’s bowling instead of just tapping the ball for a single. He had skied the ball in the air only to see Jos Buttler taking an easy catch at cover point. He had nobody to blame but himself for that moment of madness. What could have been a memorable achievement turned out to be a moment of agony, one that would haunt him for a long time.
It was the 2013-14 Ranji season that turned out to be the turning point in his career. A whopping 1,033 runs that included three hundreds and a 'Man of the Match' performance in the final had helped his side Karnataka clinch the title in that season. Following his exploits, the Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) franchise bought him in the subsequent Indian Premier League (IPL) auctions for Rs 1 crore. However, he was not able to produce anything spectacular with the bat that could be termed as mind-blowing for T20 standards.
From that time onwards, he started working on his stroke play to improve his chances of playing limited overs cricket. The change was visible when he represented the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the 2016 edition of the IPL. He was the third highest scorer of the team behind Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers as he played some superb knocks batting in the middle order.
It was this change in approach that somehow affected his game and hampered his temperament as a Test batsman. There is no harm in playing in an aggressive manner in Test cricket. Virender Sehwag succeeded in doing that year after year. However, he too wasn’t that consistent right from the start. He learnt things as he gradually kept playing Test cricket. He learnt to control his aggression and use it in a proper way.
No doubt his batting style is exactly what a team needs in limited-overs cricket. But, Test cricket is not about over-the-top aggression. It is more about controlled aggression. And the 25-year old Karnataka batsman needs to learn that quickly in the same manner that Sehwag did.