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Nov 20, 2019-Wednesday



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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

India vs England: KL Rahul pushes for spot in Edgbaston opener

Controversially dropped for the last ODI, KL Rahul will make it difficult for team management to keep him out of the first Test against England

cricket Updated: Jul 26, 2018 22:22 IST
N Ananthanarayanan
N Ananthanarayanan
Hindustan Times, Chelmsford
India's KL Rahul celebrates his fifty runs on the first day of the one-off cricket test match against Afghanistan, at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Thursday, June 14, 2018.
India's KL Rahul celebrates his fifty runs on the first day of the one-off cricket test match against Afghanistan, at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Thursday, June 14, 2018. (PTI)

Essex left-arm seamer Paul Walter, getting a rare chance to play for the main eleven, had his tails up on Wednesday.

He had got a set Virat Kohli to play away from the body and nick to first slip on the first day of the practice game on a green pitch. Conditions improved later on Day 1 in the three-day tie, but Walter was causing problems due to the angle the tall pacer created. He had also bowled Vijay for 53.

This time, he tried to set up new batsman KL Rahul. The first delivery, pitched up, was creamed through off. The next was short, and Rahul got enough bat but found the extra-cover fielder. The next one carried real danger. It was a slow, pitched up delivery, the kind visiting batsmen obligingly nick in these parts where the ball moves.

Rahul, though fresh to the crease, played late and with minimum adjustment crashed it past cover, leaving the 24-year-old pacer nodding at how the batsman had read him comfortably and played positively. The 26-year-old’s fluid batting was again on display. Feet movement, timing and authority at the crease was all evident in a two-hour knock.

Although he batted at No 6 and conditions had eased off a bit, Rahul’s qualities and form will make it tough for the team management not to pick him, after controversially dropping him for the final ODI against England.

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Regardless of the slow pitches a hot English summer promises, India’s top-order will be braced for James Anderson and Stuart Broad testing them with the Dukes ball. Lesser Essex bowlers shook them on Day 1.

At the moment, Rahul looks technically the most complete batsman in the side. At home as opener, Rahul is not that comfortable in the middle-order. He batted at No 3, scoring a century in the first T20 against England, but came in to face the final delivery of the first over.

India’s batting uncertainties could open the door for Rahul, and earlier the better as it will be crucial to take the upper hand in the demanding five-Test series. Essex pacer Matt Coles, who had Dhawan and Pujara caught behind in his first two overs, said movement would challenge Indian batsmen — four nicked behind the stumps. He put Kohli’s dismissal in perspective, “He showed class. He chased a wider ball, pushed at it or was looking to chase the game, whatever,” but added: “If you hit the right areas, it’s hard for half the batters to play.”

If India start with Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay — the left-right combination will be key — Rahul may have to wait. But Cheteshwar Pujara has struggled to convert balls faced into runs. After an average South Africa tour, he didn’t get a half-century in the Afghanistan Test. Even for Yorkshire this season, runs didn’t come.

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Rahul was pushed back in the pecking order last year only due to injury. But he has made it count whenever he has got set. In the 2017 home series win over Australia, it was Rahul who steered India through tricky situations, always assured despite a shoulder injury. Surgery set him back in the openers’ queue as Dhawan, recalled for the Sri Lanka tour, reclaimed his spot.

England offers a different challenge and Rahul’s ability to play straight, late, and positive will be crucial. Ajinkya Rahane had one meaningful stint, India A versus England Lions, and that means Kohli will need someone who can play positively and is in touch.

It is a scenario with possibilities. Dhawan, Pujara and Rahane falling to the new ball on Wednesday makes it intriguing. Taming swing and seam in a demanding series could prove vital, and Rahul could well be the man who can do it.