How KL Rahul redefined himself as a middle-order mainstay

Rahul playing an attacking shot. (Source: PTI)

A year ago, he was dropped from the team for the final two Tests against Australia. There was little chance of him playing in the World Test Championship final at The Oval against the same team and the unexpected didn’t happen. The door remained shut when India went to the West Indies in July. His Test career seemed doomed.
Credit KL Rahul for scripting one of the most unlikely comeback stories in the recent history of Indian cricket. From nonentity to a middle-order mainstay in a matter of weeks, after spending a few months in Test oblivion, is no ordinary tale. Like the quiet nature of his game, this may not make loud statements, but it’s one worth recounting and admiring.
This is all the more remarkable because the turnaround happened when Rahul found himself in the middle order. In 75 of his 84 Test innings prior to today, Rahul had opened the innings. He had looked settled at the top after making centuries in England and South Africa as an opener in 2021.
Then came the dip. It was so long that he found himself out of favour. It can be said that his ability to keep wickets played a part in this revival, but his batting has been the cornerstone of this story. He is playing in a different zone. This happens to players who have long careers. In the case of Rahul, it has come at the right time. He is still to turn 32.
In a bunch of movers and shakers, Rahul is the odd man out. He indulges in things like tattoos and funky clothes, but his game is not noisy by nature. He is not your quintessential hipster, although he represents that generation. Even when he scores at a fast clip, his approach is nonviolent. His aggression is aesthetic, devoid of force and sublime in essence.

The knock against England in the first Test in Hyderabad may not rank among his best, considering the benign attack. Still, his composure when others were frittering away starts formed the bedrock of a potentially match-winning Indian reply. Make that a 20 or 30 instead of 86 and the stability it provided, and the value of this effort will become clearer.
In completely different conditions against a pace attack led by a Kagiso Rabada breathing fire, Rahul’s 101 was a gem. It came in a losing cause, but redefined him and established him as a middle-order pillar. For an opener to be shepherding the tail batting at No. 6 and cutting loose against a fiery pace pack was extraordinary.
His form in the World Cup and the Asia Cup just before that must have been a morale-booster. It gave the Karnataka player confidence that not all was lost, however gloomy things might have looked for a period. He has carried that belief into the longest format and looks determined to make this opportunity count.
Like his teammates, Rahul got out in Hyderabad trying to force the pace. Until then, he was an apostle of calmness, after an early reprieve against Joe Root. His play against spin was a cut above the rest, be it while defending or attacking. He seldom looks hurried and this effort was no exception. Despite that, he maintained a strike rate of a touch under 70.
This innate quality sets Rahul apart. He can dominate the bowling without giving that feeling. Even his physical expressions of aggression are of a milder nature, compared to his contemporaries in Indian and international cricket. Given his experience and age, there is time for him to make up for what he has lost. This can be a fresh start.

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