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‘Batting Machine’ Rahul plays it tight to score big

With three Test centuries in the three countries he has played in so far, KL Rahul is presenting a strong case to become India’s first-choice opener. His Daddy hundred at Sabina Park showed his steady temperament and hunger for runs

cricket Updated: Aug 01, 2016 12:14 IST
Somshuvra Laha
Somshuvra Laha
Hindustan Times
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In 11 innings, Lokesh Rahul’s scores read 3, 1, 110, 16, 7, 5, 108, 2, 2, 2 and 158. While the stats indicates Rahul’s vulnerability at the start, he has also shown the maturity to convert every fifty into a hundred.(AP)

Daddy hundreds (score over 150) give a measure of a batsman’s appetite for runs. On Sunday, KL Rahul showed he is not easily satisfied. He has played six Tests in three countries—Australia, Sri Lanka and the West Indies—scoring a century in each series. And he is yet to play at home.

It shows how Rahul has built a case for himself since his debut despite the assurance given to Shikhar Dhawan that he will remain India’s first-choice opener along with Murali Vijay. In 11 innings, Rahul’s scores read 3, 1, 110, 16, 7, 5, 108, 2, 2, 2 and 158. While the stats indicates Rahul’s vulnerability at the start, he has also shown the maturity to convert every fifty into a hundred. Mohammed Azharuddin was the last Indian to convert his first three fifties into centuries, in the 1984-85 season.

Last time India had played at the Sabina Park, a Rahul—the great Rahul Dravid—had scored a century. It’s perhaps fitting that another Rahul scored when India needed someone to anchor their innings. He looked unflappable against pace and bounce. And that short-arm jab, so reminiscent of Dravid, to drop the ball near his feet for a quick single underlined his ability to score even when boundaries were not available. Just to give an insight to Rahul’s scoring pattern, he ran 42 singles, 16 twos and two three-runs in his innings of 158.

“I have nicknamed him batting machine. He keeps batting all the time and it’s not a surprise that he has made runs,” said R. Ashwin on Saturday, describing Rahul’s work ethic. “Whenever he has made hundreds for us, it has been crucial knocks. He made one in Sri Lanka which is very memorable. As a matter of fact, the way he played in the IPL, it’s just an extension. He has made a lot of runs in first class cricket. He has pretty much arrived at this level.”

While Rahul cruised on Saturday to reach to his fifty in 58 balls, he was a much more cautious player in the morning session on Sunday. It has something to do with the fact that he is a slow starter. But he has learnt and has improved, which was illustrated by how well he played deliveries on their merit.

“My plan when I went out yesterday was to put the loose balls away and be positive and have a very aggressive intent,” said Rahul “I don’t know whether it is easy or tough, but the simplest things if you do it right, it pays off all the time. That is to play to the merit of the ball, you think the ball is there to be hit, and you feel confident, then you hit the ball. I tried to keep it simple.”

Not being able to play regularly can play all sorts of tricks on the mind but Rahul has been steadfast in proving himself in whatever opportunity he gets. It’s difficult to come out of bench and score big straightaway.

“Obviously, I have been spending a lot of time in the nets. It’s a different challenge once you go out there and when you have the pressure of the game. I tried to keep things simple. I have been in good form for the last three to four months. I have been moving well, and hitting the ball really well,” added Rahul.

“Right now I’m in a good space,” he elaborated. “I’m only watching the ball and trying to judge the ball and if I think the ball is there to be hit, I’m hitting the ball. That doesn’t change. That’s the only thing that doesn’t change with T20, one-day or Test cricket—when the ball is there to be hit, you hit the ball. That’s the only thing that runs in my mind. I’m very happy with the space I’m in and the focus levels have been great.”

Apart from the one-off Test in Bangladesh, Rahul has been lucky to feature in every overseas series since his debut in Australia. And by making a century on every tour, he has made his case stronger for a chance to seal his position as an opener. Right now, Dhawan looks the most insecure in that position even though Virat Kohli has thrown his weight behind him.

Rahul is a tighter batsman. He score freely like Dhawan but he also possesses better defence. And in the past, though in other formats, Rahul has also shown the flexibility to bat anywhere in the order. Kohli, however, is a stickler for specialists. And Rahul is first and foremost, a talented opener. Given his form, any other team would have given an arm and a leg to make Rahul a first-choice opener. But for now he might have to wait for his next chance. But the wait, going by his form, won’t be that long.

First Published: Aug 01, 2016 11:55 IST