What is KL Rahul doing in England and why is he not a part of the Sri Lankan series?

In Test cricket, KL Rahul has struggled to cement his place in the playing XI. His last appearance for India in the longest format of the game came in 2019 against West Indies at Kingston.

What is KL Rahul doing in England and why is he not a part of the Sri Lankan series?
India's KL Rahul (L) chats with coach Ravi Shastri (R) during a training session. (File Photo: AFP)

KL Rahul enjoyed a stellar start to international cricket with his sublime ability to score runs in a conventional and classy style. The right-hander achieved a feat which has even eluded India captain Virat Kohli. Soon after making his India debut in 2014, the 29-year-old went to smash a century in all the three formats of the game and accomplished a milestone which only handful of international cricketers can boost of. But just when Rahul looked like a future superstar of Indian cricket, his career fell of the tracks, and not all was his own doing.

In Test cricket, the Karnataka batsman has struggled to cement his place in the playing XI. His last appearance for India in the longest format of the game came in 2019 against West Indies at Kingston. Rahul looked like a mere shadow of himself, extremely uncomfortable in the middle and lacked spark which had once earned him the India call-up. Since then he has been dragged for every series, but only to watch the game from the sidelines.

In the 2020-21 Border-Gavaskar series against Australia, Rahul didn’t play even a single test match even after he put on an impressive performance in the white-ball series and IPL-13. The 29-year-old watched the likes of Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill and later Rohit Sharma occupy the opening slot. The opening position was jam-packed and Rahul’s role the squad looked unclear.

At one stage it looked like the team management might try out Rahul in the middle-order, especially once Virat Kohli left the team after the first Test match in Adelaide. But what came as a surprise was seeing Mayank Agarwal get a chance in the middle-order and Rahul helplessly warming the benches in the dugout.

In the following four-match Test series against England at home, Rahul spent the entirety of the time either carrying the drinks or watching the game from the dugout. The opening spot was taken by Rohit and Gill, while middle-order looked as solid as ever with Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja excelling with the bat. All of a sudden, it looked like there’s no place for Rahul in India’s test set-up.

Did selectors miss a trick with KL Rahul?

Rahul currently is in England with the Test team which is schedule to play the World Test Championship (WTC) final and then a five-match Test series against the hosts. The tour will last for three months, and chances of Rahul getting some game time looks slim. It’s heartening to see the selectors and the team management show unconditional faith on the 29-year-old.

But the question is, would it not have made more sense to pick Rahul for the limited-overs series against Sri Lanka?

The elegant right-hander has been in scintillating form in white-ball cricket for substantial amount of time now. He ended IPL-13 as the leading run-scorer, while score plenty of runs before IPL-14 was suspended half-way due to COVID-19. That was the primary reason why Rahul returned to India’s Test squad.

With the second team, Rahul would have had plenty to offer. It could have been a terrific opportunity to figure out Rahul’s leadership skills as well. Most importantly, the Karnataka batsman would have been an integral part of the squad and gained some confidence playing in the middle instead of warming the benches.

Picking Rahul for Sri Lankan tour would have also made more sense considering the T20 World Cup is scheduled to take place later in the year, a tournament in which the right-hander expected to be lethal upfront.

At 29, Rahul probably is at the peak of his powers and looking at how he is spending his prime is definitely concerning. Rahul oozes class when in full rhythm and is treat to watch. One could only hope to see Rahul entertain world cricket with his sensational batting, instead of wasting the entire English summer knocking in the nets or warming the benches.