KL Rahul rolling down the Rahane road

Why KL Rahul was dropped in the ODI squad that will face the BlackCaps was, perhaps, easy for the selectors to justify.

Ajinkya Rahane and KL Rahul
Indian cricketer Ajinkya Rahane (R) and teammate Lokesh Rahul. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Versatility and flexibility may be one of those few things Team India wants to associate with but the two players that were associated with those terms now find their position in the team uncertain.

Why KL Rahul was dropped in the ODI squad that will face the BlackCaps was, perhaps, easy for the selectors to justify but was a little difficult for me to understand since he was not given a single game in the previous series.

According to them, there is no particular reason for Rahul to be dropped but simply that he doesn’t fit in because the current combination is the best. In addition to that, it is also an instance of their rotation policy implementation. They also added that it was pointless adding him to the squad if he wouldn’t make it into the Playing XI.

Though the statement appears as if very little thought was put into it, it is true that with Ajinkya Rahane assuming the role of the back-up third opener, the chances of Rahul getting a go do become bleak. However, if a solid batsman across foreseen as someone who will be a big name across all formats, not making it into the squad isn’t a case interesting enough, his case is very similar to Rahane, the guy he pretty much lost his position in the team too.

It’s also debatable what exactly Rahul’s position the team was: whether he was being backed as the solution to their No. 4 spot concern or a substitute for the openers who had both been out of the game for different reasons, for a larger part in the previous year. And that’s where his case starts becoming the problem Rahane too is facing, at the moment.

While they are both past that phase where they are tried out for India’s perennial concern of the No. 4 spot, they both found themselves sitting in the dressing room at one point, only for India to boast about their strong bench-strength. And mind you, despite all this while the No. 4 spot still remains uncertain. Ideally, it should belong to Manish Pandey, but because India has now found a liking to experimentation and exposure to different match situations off-late, seeing Hardik Pandya or Kedar Jadhav coming in instead is quite likely.

Now that the probability of Rahul featuring in that role too has decreased, as also established by his numbers in the middle order where he has managed a meagre 28 runs in 3 innings at an average of 9.33, it seems like his job is cut out as an opener only. In comparison, he has fared much better at the top with 220 runs in 6 innings at an average of 55. It was as an opener that he got his maiden ODI century in Zimbabwe while also registering a half-century.

Though it’s unfair to compare Rahul’s record with Rahane’s in the middle, because of the difference in the number of innings played, Rahane can still be stuffed somewhere in the middle order in the worst case scenario because his overall numbers in the middle order are better than at top. The same cannot be said about Rahul though.

It may be due to the need for each batsman to be acclimatized to a defined role well before the World Cup that Rahul may not be a regular in the side yet and it will be asking for too much to fashion or remodel his game to suit the middle order, just so that he can fit in the team.

Moreover, as long as Rahane can spring up the moment there is an injury (which is often in Rohit and Dhawan’s case), Rahul’s chances at the top seem very limited. Even though Rahul’s ability in his brief stints so far seem much more impactful than Rahane’s. His struggle in strike rotation, changing gears along with the inability to convert consistent fifties into bigger scores have been a major drawback for the latter. But, he probably has leverage at the moment because of his experience and overseas exposure.

Rahul hasn’t received much time, or a considerable number of games making his sample space confined to the 10 ODI games he has played, making his axing seem all the more unfair. Of course, what I’m saying is also largely dependent on the course of action the management takes in the limited overs series in the months to come but the precedent of Rahane is quite the benchmark to understand that he may continue adding to the bench-strength for most of the time, being the preferred option only in case of injury or unavailability.

With the return of Dhawan in the series against New Zealand after ruling himself out in the series against Australia, Rahane may well be carrying drinks, just days after he fared decently in a role he fancies with and after bagging a Man of the Series award in the West Indies series. Rahul, on the other hand, will see from afar the unfortunate (and, slightly unfair) repercussions of not being able to nail down his place in Sri Lanka.

When the selectors decide to try something new again, they will probably decide to draft a squad with four openers and who knows, maybe we could see both Rahane and Rahul together giving an interview about India’s enviable bench-strength. Till then, cricket theories will have to do.

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