KL Rahul
India’s KL Rahul plays a shot during the first day of the first Test cricket match against Australia at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur on February 9, 2023. Rahul has been under pressure after a poor string of scores. Image Credit: AFP

KL Rahul is a marvellous player. No doubt about that. The Indian opener is a delight to watch when he’s in full flow. But runs aren’t flowing from his bat. In the Nagpur Test against Australia, Rahul scratched around for 20 runs which did nothing to justify his inclusion at the expense of Shubman Gill.

Now that brings up the question: Does Rahul deserve a place on the team.? No, says former India pacer Venkatesh Prasad, who raged on Twitter and attributed Rahul’s continued presence in the Indian team to favouritism. Former players Sunil Gavaskar and Madan Lal disagreed with Prasad’s assertion and called for giving Rahul one more chance.

Rahul’s scores in last 10 innings

Now here’s what has been happening. Whenever Rahul is close to being dropped, he produces a good innings only to return to his default mode of poor scores. The T20 World Cup in Australia is a good example, where Rahul’s inconsistency was one of the reasons for India’s poor starts in the tournament.

Back to Test cricket. Rahul had struck hundreds during the recent tours of England and South Africa, but there wasn’t much beyond the centuries. His scores in the last 10 innings are 23, 50, 8, 12, 10, 22, 23, 10, 2 and 20. These figures aren’t flattering enough to merit a place in the Indian squad and to keep out several talented batsmen.

Prasad has a point when he says: “A test average of 34 after 46 tests and more than 8 years in international cricket is ordinary. Can’t think of many who have been given so many chances.” To be fair to Rahul, his international career has been interrupted by injuries and surgeries. Despite that, he has played some masterful innings. But he hasn’t been consistent enough to cement his place in the team.

Look at Virat Kohli, who remained a vital part of the team without scoring a hundred for more than two years. Despite the absence of hundreds, Kohli kept scoring runs, although it was not at his usual phenomenal pace prompting critics to unfairly dub Kohli a failure. That’s not the case with Rahul, whose contributions have been pathetic.

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Rahul’s continued presence in the national team is galling when Gill is in resplendent form. In his last seven international matches, the Punjab youngster struck four centuries, including a double ton, And this is a player more suited to Test cricket, given his flawless technique. Not just that. Gill had been a consistent performer during the 2021 tour of Australia, where his strokeful 91 helped India win in Brisbane. So, he’s got a proven record too.

In such circumstances, it’s sheer injustice to deny Gill, who is hailed as a generational player by current and former Indian cricketers. I’m not saying that Gill will carry his red-hot form into Tests. But he deserves a place in the team on the strength of his string of big scores.

Gill is not the only contender for the opener’s slot. There’s also Prithvi Shaw, who’s eyeing a return to the national team. But the Mumbai youngster can wait. Right now, Gill should be opening the batting for India.