It is almost certain that the likes of Rishabh Pant, Washington Sundar, Vijay Shankar, Deepak Hooda, Shardul Thakur, Axar Patel and Mohammad Siraj will get enough game-time to show their mettle in the Nidahas Trophy beginning on Tuesday. The absence of senior players like Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Kuldeep Yadav throughout the series gives the fringe players ample time and opportunity to come out of their shadows and produce impactful performances on their own.
However, despite so many players being rested, there is one fringe player whose involvement in the series still seems doubtful. He is none other than KL Rahul. The reason behind that is not any sudden injury or any personal reason. In fact, the composition of the Indian squad is the main reason that suggests he may not be getting enough game-time in the upcoming tri-series.
The Indian think-tank identifies the 25-year old Karnataka batsman only as a top order batsman. So with Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma already there in the squad, it looks highly unlikely that Rahul will get an opportunity to open the innings ahead of them.
As far as the No 3 and 4 spots in the batting order are concerned, those will be mostly reserved for players like Pant, Suresh Raina and Manish Pandey. Raina looked to be coming back into his zone in the T20I series against South Africa after his long exile from the Indian team. Pant’s development as a player demands giving him enough game-time as well. Moreover, Pandey’s exploits with the bat in the T20Is against South Africa has made him a sure-shot starter as well. So it doesn’t look like that the team management would want any of those players to sit out so that Rahul can be accomodated at any of those positions as well.
Moreover, they don’t rate Rahul that highly as a middle-order batsman as they rate him as a top order prospect. So his inclusion in the playing XI as a No 5 or No 6 batsman looks out of the equation too. Players like Dinesh Karthik, Shankar or Hooda will be mostly seen featuring at those batting positions.
However, going strictly by Rahul's T20I record, it is quite ridiculous how a batsman with such impressive numbers isn’t able to find a place in the playing XI. Rahul has managed 458 runs in 12 T20Is so far at a massive average of 50.88 and a high strike rate of 147.74.
He has done well whenever he has batted at the top of the order for India. Although his Indian Premier League (IPL) exploits over the years suggest that he is a capable middle-order batsman as well, the Indian think tank is just not convinced enough to slot Rahul in the middle order as he has failed to prove his mettle there on numerous occasions provided to him at the international level.
However, even if they don’t want to use him as a middle-order prospect, there is actually a way they can extract the most out of his abilities as a batsman. And that is by shifting Rohit down the order at No 4 and allowing Rahul to open the innings along with Dhawan.
Whether they would want to tinker with Rohit’s batting position is totally up to them and Rohit himself. However, Rohit has batted in the middle order on numerous occasions for his IPL franchise, Mumbai Indians. Not only that, he has been massively successful in that role, winning them numerous matches single-handedly. So his move down the order is quite a viable option if India don’t want to waste Rahul’s talent and bring his morale down.
Australia have tried something similar recently and the move has been highly successful. They moved Aaron Finch down the order to No 5 in order to accommodate D’Arcy Short at the top of the order in the recently concluded T20I tri-series featuring New Zealand and England as the other two teams.
Short was seen in sensational form in the 2017-18 edition of the Big Bash League (BBL). He emerged as the tournament’s highest run-getter, amassing 572 runs in 11 innings at an average of 57.2 and a strike rate of 148.57. He didn’t let the selectors and the team management down as he carried his domestic form into the international stage amassing 196 runs in five matches of the Trans Tasman T20 Tri-series at an average of 49 and a massive strike rate of 149.61. Those runs included two fifties as well and thus helped Australia to win the tournament comfortably.
Finch, who had excelled in his middle-order role with the Gujarat Lions in the 2016 edition of the IPL, proved effective in the middle order for Australia as well. He provided much-required finishing touches to each of Australia’s innings, coming up with unbeaten cameos of 20, 36 and 18 in the three matches that he played.
So the key to finding a way to use the talent of Rahul in the Indian XI is just a tweak away and that very small tweak can work wonders. India should not shy away from following this Australian template and Rohit himself being the captain should show the pro-activeness to implement this move. Rahul has been overlooked in each of the three formats for quite a long time now. It’s high-time for India to settle his dues at least in T20Is.