Dubai: It seems that KL Rahul, who has been ruling the roost in the going IPL 2020 with the bat, still continues to polarise opinions on if he belongs to the Test arena. For some, he is the next best thing that could have happened to India’s batting prowess after Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma while for others, the Kings XI Punjab captain may be a champion of white ball cricket but still not a proven customer in Test matches.
Sanjay Manjrekar, former Indian middle order batsman and a TV pundit, belongs to the second category who has waded into the Karnataka batsman - calling him ‘lucky’ to find himself in the Test side for the demanding tour of Australia. He has made his point by raking up Rahul’s averages in last five Test series, the highest one being 29 against England and the worse being 7.1 against South Africa almost two years back.
This has provoked a sharp reaction from former Indian opener Krish Srikkanth, who felt Manjrekar cannot see anything positive in players who don’t hail from Mumbai. “He might have been inconsistent but the same KL Rahul made his debut in Australia and made a century. He’s a good player of fast bowling. Let’s understand, he’s a very good player of fast bowling,” Srikkanth said in his Youtube channel.
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“Sanjay Manjrekar cannot think beyond Bombay. That’s the problem. We are talking neutral. Manjrekar cannot think beyond Bombay. For people like Manjrekar, everything is Bombay, Bombay and Bombay. They have to think beyond Bombay,” said Srikkanth - not known to pull his punches.
Such soundbytes will certainly give Srikkanth the eyeballs but before this degenerates into a West versus South debate (read: Mumbai versus Chennai), it may be worthwhile to see if there is any merit in Manjrekar’s comment at all.
A run-through of the evolution of Rahul will reveal that he had been actually a product of India’s domestic system as he first caught the eye by being a prolific scorer for Karnataka - an attribute which earned him the Test debut first - way back in 2014 in the tour of Australia. After succumbing to nerves and falling to poor shot selection in the first Test, a Boxing Day affair at the MCG, he recovered well to score a century in the very next one in Sydney as an opener.
The last six years, incidentally, had seen him grow into a powerhouse in the white ball game - so much so that he has now been named as the vice-captain in the limited overs formats in the upcoming tour of Australia. He lost his place in the Test squad after a string of poor scores that Manjrekar refers to, but he did not acquit himself too badly in the longer format overall - being the owner of 2006 runs from 36 Tests at an average of 34.5 with five centuries - four of which had come as an opener away from home.
It’s a fact that ‘KL’ may have had lost his way in red ball cricket with some strong competition coming in the shape of the seasoned Rohit Sharma finally making the cut and his soulmate Mayank Agarwal consolidating his place over the past year. However, the ideal batting spot for the graceful batsman, if he has to play in Tests, will be that of an opener - and it would have been equally unfair not to consider him when Rohit is uncertain for the series.
The last thing the pundits should do is to stereotype a player into roles in modern cricket. One doesn’t have to look beyond the example of Virneder Sehwag for this - it took an experiment from the then captain Sourav Ganguly to convert him into a Test opener on India’s tour of England in 2002 - and it saw the emergence of India’s biggest match-winner in that decade.
The perceptions have also robbed valuable years of Test cricket for Rohit Sharma. For Rahul, now 28 and a much more mature batsman at the top of his game, it’s a case of now or never for him.