KL Rahul has a complicated relationship with Australia. It was there that he turned heads with a classy century at Sydney playing only in his second Test match in 2014-15 and it was also there that he lost his Test spot after accumulating only 57 runs in three Tests in 2018-19. In between, he enjoyed great success against Australia scoring 6 fifties in 5 Tests and registering consistent scores in limited-overs cricket but they all came at home. Whenever he travelled down under, runs were hard to come by even in white-ball cricket.
Rahul has returned to Australia – his third trip in his short six-year-old international career – looking a lot assured, way matured and with a better understanding of his game.
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There is an Australia connection to Rahul’s return to the Indian side as an all-format batsman after two years too. With Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan going strong at the top, it had become increasingly difficult for Rahul to find a regular spot in the limited-overs side. If it hadn’t been for a concussion injury to Rishabh Pant in the first ODI at Visakhapatnam last year, Rahul would have still been waiting for an experiment with him in the middle order to break into the XI.
In that three-match ODI series against Australia, Rahul found success with the bat and more importantly also with the gloves, providing India to explore the options of playing him as a keeper batsman in white-ball cricket.
The 52-ball 82-run innings batting at No.5 in the 2nd ODI at Rajkot also confirmed he does not needed to open to stamp his authority. He can take the gloves and bat in the middle-order, the role Pant had been performing in Dhoni’s absence with moderate success.
In the following tour in New Zealand, Rahul took the gloves in all 8 limited-overs fixtures despite Sanju Samson playing a couple of T20Is. A fit and fine Pant warmed the benches throughout the ODI and T20I series.
India haven’t played a limited-overs fixture since then. The first ODI against Sydney will be their first in close to 9 months. With Dhoni now officially retired from international cricket, the question now is prominent than ever. Who will be India’s keeper-batsman in limited overs?
‘Rahul the first-choice’
Former India cricketers Ajay Ratra and Rohan Gavaskar are in favour of Rahul continuing with the job especially after his astonishing success in the IPL 2020.
“The kind of form that Rahul is in obviously makes him the best option. He is flexible in the batting order, keeping wise also he has done a decent job. Rahul is an asset, he will walk into the Indian ODI and T20I at any point of time. If he keeps then it allows India to play an extra bowler or an all-rounder. So Rahul should be the first choice keeper-batsman in T20I and ODIs,” said former India wicket-keeper Ajay Ratra in an exclusive conversation with Hindustan Times.
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Rahul averages 75 in ODIs and 56 in T20Is playing as a designated keeper. Apart from the number of runs, what also goes in his favour is his keeping skills, which may not outstanding but is error free. In all the 10 matches that he has kept for India, there haven’t been many questions about his wicket keeping.
“Rahul has kept in junior cricket and that’s why he doesn’t look like a makeshift keeper at all,” added Ratra.
He also added that Pant and Samson are now fighting for the second keeper’s spot.
“Samson needs to be a bit more consistent with the bat. Same is for Pant. They definitely have the potential. Samson didn’t get to keep wickets much in the IPL. But both Samson and Pant are now fighting for the second spot.”
‘One of our best T20 batsmen’
Former India batsman Rohan Gavaskar, on the other hand, believes it should be Rahul’s personal choice. The junior Gavaskar sad Rahul is one of India’s T20 batsmen now and that should not get affected because of wicket keeping.
“KL Rahul is got to up there as our best T20 batsman, now whether you want to give him that extra burden of wicket-keeping and whether he is happy with that, only he can answer,” Gavaskar told Hindustan Times.
“If he is happy wicket keeping and opening the batting then that’s going to be the way forward. If not then it makes space for someone like a Rishabh Pant, who is also extremely skilful with the bat. It’s a problem of plenty I think. It in the end boils down to what KL Rahul wants to do. So far keeping hasn’t affected his batting. So far he has been top-class in white-ball cricket,” he added.
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