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Rahul's second century at Centurion underlines his quality

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Last updated on 27 Dec 2023 | 10:31 AM
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Rahul's second century at Centurion underlines his quality

KL Rahul is the only overseas batter to score two Test tons in Centurion

KL Rahul the batter has had a history of frustrating the fans. But there are times that with his elegance and an efficient mix of defense and aggression, he becomes one of the most eye-pleasing batters to watch. These troughs and peaks have defined his nine-year old career so far. 

The ongoing Boxing Day Test is a testament to these highs and lows. Rahul headed into the match returning to the team after missing the last five Tests on grounds of poor form. Now, a combination of his form with the bat as a middle-order batter in white-ball cricket, his wicketkeeping in those games, and Rishabh Pant’s unavailability made a case for his comeback but in a new role as a wicketkeeping batter at number six. It was also the first occasion of him batting this low in the order since his debut in December 2014. 

The question was obvious: Can Rahul nail this role at six? It is also only the second first-class game of his career where he is the designated wicketkeeper. 

Rahul answered those questions with flying colors, with the bat at least. Walking out to bat minutes after Lunch on Day 1 at 92/4, the 31-year old is the pivotal reason India have notched up 245 after being asked to bat first on a challenging wicket for the batters. 

Rahul scored 101 off 137 deliveries, exhibiting a masterclass of how to bat on a wicket that has had constant swing, seam, and extra bounce for South Africa’s four-pronged pace attack. His innate ability to play the ball late was the foundation behind a strike rate of 73.7. 

The Karnataka-born amassed 39% of his runs square of the wickets and another 26% in the cover region. It allowed him not to get bogged down. On Day 1, when he finished 70 not out, his strike rate progressed continuously - from 46.7 in the first 30 balls of his innings to 66.7 by the end of the day’s play. 

Today, Rahul added another 31 runs to his tally off 32 balls. The challenge was different - to accumulate quick runs while batting with the remaining two tailenders. The right-hander was efficient in farming the strike, facing 32 off the 52 balls India batted on Day 2. He caught the inexperienced South African wicketkeeper Kyle Verreynne off guard, sneaking in a bye to regain the strike from Prasidh Krishna when he was on 95. Rahul smashed the last ball of that over for a six to bring up his eighth Test hundred. 

“This is the best hundred of his career,” said Ravi Shastri on air in his boisterous voice. 

It was under Shastri when Rahul returned to the Test side in August 2021. Touring England, it was once again the injuries that marked him for a Test comeback then. Albeit, he had the task of opening the innings in one of the most hostile countries for a Test opener. Rahul aced that role with his technique of playing the ball late again enabling him to score 315 runs in four Tests, including a ton. In the follow-up tour, he continued his resurrection as a Test opener, scoring a match-winning 123 in the first Test against South Africa, in Centurion. 

A slump followed and Rahul was dropped again with returns of 175 runs in 11 innings at 15.9 runs per dismissal. This is how uneven his career trajectory has been. 

In that regard, life has come full circle for Rahul. Coming back to Centurion, he has another hundred in his bank, this time batting at number six. He is only the seventh Indian batter to score a Test hundred both as an opener and at number six. One from this small and elite club is his captain Rohit Sharma and the other is his coach at present, Rahul Dravid. 

KL Rahul is also the only overseas batter now to score two Test tons in Centurion. It has been the most hostile venue for batters of late. At 21.9, it has the lowest batting average for any Test venue with more than one Test since 2021. 

Such a record in a batting furnace leaves no question marks on Rahul’s quality. The only question that remains now is whether this peak will also be followed by another trough. That will be the challenge in front of him. 

31 years old now, Rahul averages only 33.5 in his Test career. For a batter who has trumped multiple roles across formats with such finesse, the number seems too low. This might well be his last chance to raise it to complement his skillset. It will also be interestng to see how India fits him in the XI moving forward. But for now, with his 101, Rahul has put India on the road to achieve their final frontier. 

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