Team India’s 15-member squad that was announced for the World Test Championship (WTC) Final against New Zealand did not feature a few prominent names. Apart from Mayank Agarwal, Axar Patel, Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar, batsman KL Rahul also did not find a place. Rahul hasn’t played a Test match since September 2019, when he scored 13 and 6 against West Indies in the Kingston Test. The big question that then arises is – does Rahul have a future with India’s Test team?
If we look at the current Team India set-up, Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill are the first-choice openers while Agarwal is the preferred back-up opener for now. There is no spot for Rahul in the middle-order as well with Cheteshwar Pujara, skipper Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane occupying the middle-order. If Rahul had hopes of fitting in as a wicketkeeper-batsman in the longer format of the game, those too were dashed as Rishabh Pant sealed his slot with some fantastic batting efforts. So, as of now, it looks very difficult for Rahul to fit into the scheme for things for India in Test matches.
Has Rahul done enough to retain his Test spot?
Rahul has had a middling Test career so far. He has featured in 36 Tests and has scored 2006 runs at an average of 34.58 with five hundreds and 11 fifties. The 29-year-old made a ragged Test debut against Australia during the Boxing Day Test of 2014. He played two of the worst shots a debutant could play. However, in the very next game, he proved his mettle with a hundred in the New Year’s Test in Sydney. The unpredictability factor has continued to bother Rahul in the longer format.
From December 2016 to September 2018, he enjoyed a decent run, scoring 1239 runs at an average of 41.30 with two hundreds. However, from October 2018 till being dropped, he had a horrible phase. Rahul featured in seven Tests during this period, but only managed 195 runs at a poor average of 17.72 and a highest of 44. During this phase, he played three Tests in Australia. However, he only managed 57 runs at an average of 11.40. Even at home, he only averaged 18.50 from two Tests. Further, from two Tests in West Indies, he returned with a best of 44 and an average of 25.25.
It is no surprise that Rahul hasn’t played a Test match in nearly two years. Even his recall to the Test side was based on his good form in the shorter formats. The fact is that Rahul has struggled in Tests, and looked out of sorts for an elongated period of time before being dropped. His shoddy record away from home is a clear indicator that his technique has been found out in tough batting conditions. While Rahul averages 44.25 from 14 home Tests, his average falls to 29.50 in away Tests.
Bifurcating further, he averages only 20.77 from five Tests in Australia and 29.90 from five Tests in England. Even in the two Tests he played in South Africa, he managed only 30 runs at an average of 7.5. He has done better in Sri Lanka and West Indies, averaging 33.50 and 48.14, but those two teams are no longer strong sides in international cricket.
Is there still a chance for Rahul to make a Test comeback?
Yes, a comeback for Rahul in the Test format cannot be ruled out completely. As of now, Rohit and Gill are the two openers. But, neither has completely established themselves in the longer format. Rohit still needs to prove himself away from home while Gill has only just begun his journey. Agarwal started off incredibly well in his Test career but has slipped away rather swiftly. So, one never knows when the opportunity might come knocking for Rahul. He needs to hang in there and be prepared. And, if and when the chance comes his way, he must grab it with both hands.