The absence of Shreyas Iyer (for this series) and Rishabh Pant (for the next six months) and a poor start to the Test career of KS Bharat are all factors which seem to have conspired to hand Rahul a golden chance to redeem himself and seal his spot as a wicket-keeper batsman in Team India for the World Test Championship Final in Oval in June and the ODI WC in India later this year.
A good series against Australia and then a decent IPL-2023 will immensely boost Rahul’s case as a dependable No 5 batsman who can keep wickets in both Test & ODI formats. The need to replace Rahul with KS Bharat, who had an ordinary time in the Border Gavaskar Trophy-the Andhra man made just 101 runs in 4 Tests @20.2 and dropped a few chances too-was stressed recently by India’s batting legend Sunil Gavaskar.
“You can see KL Rahul as a wicketkeeper. If he bats at No. 5 or 6 at the Oval (in the WTC final) then our batting will be stronger. Because he batted well in England last year. He scored a century at Lord’s. Keep KL Rahul in mind when you pick your XI for the WTC final,” Gavaskar told Sports Tak.
Gavaskar had stressed that Rahul’s presence as a ‘keeper will add muscle to India’s batting in the WTC final. “Whether they will select him in the XI or not is up to the selection committee, but in England, you won’t get pitches where the keeper has to stand up to the stumps. In that case, you can pick KL Rahul as a wicketkeeper and even Ishan Kishan can be considered. Their batting is better than Bharat’s,” he said.
While he has scored seven Test centuries, the off-colour Rahul’s highest score in his last 10 Test innings has been 23-he was out for 20, 17 & 1 in the recently-held BGT- and was stripped of his vice-captaincy and dropped from the XI by India after failing in the first two Tests in the series. However, it must be remembered that when India toured England in 2021, Rahul, opening the innings, scored 84 in the first Test at Nottingham and then 129 at Lord’s in the next Test. In 2018, he had scored a hundred at The Oval in the fifth Test.
In the 47 Tests that he has played in (average 33.44), Rahul has slammed hundreds in Australia, South Africa, and West Indies too. Rahul has played 15 of his 51 ODIs as a keeper-batsman and he averages 55.25 in them with a strike rate of 102.79. His highest score of 112 is as a keeper-bat vs New Zealand at Mount Maunganui in January 2020.
On Wednesday, two days ahead of the first ODI against the Aussies at the Wankhede Stadium, India’s fielding coach T Dilip gave full marks to Rahul’s ‘keeping abilities.
“We all know that KL Rahul is a wonderful player. He has a proven record. Even in ODIs, in the middle-order, he has proved himself as a batter. As a wicketkeeper, he lends a lot of balance to the team. He is not someone who has picked up the gloves now. He has been doing that since his younger days,” Dilip said.