Can he open in English conditions and still score runs?
Can he succeed as a wicket-keeper in Test cricket?
Can he bat in the middle order?
Can he tame the Tiger in the Safari?
Can he sail the boat alone and discover a new country?
No matter how many times he does the job of a crisis man, irrespective of the format, there is always an element of doubt as to what KL Rahul can do. Sometimes, he forces himself into such situations by himself. With a stern prejudice against strike-rate in T20s yet a remarkable ability to turn things around when the side need the most in the other two formats, Rahul represents a dichotomy not often understood properly.
When he scored a century in Nottingham in 2021, Rohit Sharma’s batting took the cake. When Rahul’s 97 in the World Cup bailed India out of the woods against Australia in Chennai last year, Virat Kohli was the bigger star. Somewhere, someone is there to do things with a lot more precision, relegating Rahul to a mere sidekick.
You’d think there wouldn't be any question mark on him this time after keeping wickets successfully in South Africa and then scoring a century while batting in the middle overs for the first time. But with no home centuries to show on his resume since the 199 against England in 2016, Rahul had to release the monkey off his back. This time, knowing there was no Virat Kohli insurance in the middle overs.
End result? He was dismissed for 86 after attempting a hoick against Tom Hartley to hole out to Rehan Ahmed at deep mid-wicket. But by that time, he already had secured the validation of the fans - with the entire stand giving him an ovation on his way back to the pavilion.
In the context of the game, his innings was the most important one for India. It was not like India were in a 300/3 kind of situation. His entry point demanded him to be at his careful best. There was no pacer in the English line-up to take on either; so even a little bit of carelessness could have called the catastrophe.
Rahul was mindful of that. It helped that England’s plans to attack Shreyas Iyer with short balls put Mark Wood in charge and Rahul then managed to tonk a few here and there to get into the groove. Even against the filthy spin of Hartley, Rahul bid his time, but when he found his surge, it was a treat to watch. He was in control for 87% of the time, almost as good as Shubman Gill and Yashasvi Jaiswal.
It was unfortunate for him to be dismissed 14 runs short of yet another Test century, but that opportunity is not going anywhere. India need more of the same from KL and KL needs more of the same before the fans find a different narrative to haggle around. But KL doesn’t need to prove anything, anymore.
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