A well-timed shot: KL Rahul for the No. 4
So, it’s settled then?
It’s a mystery that remains unresolved since the Stone Age. And when the World Cup came calling, it was the nine-ODI-old Vijay Shankar who trumped Ambati Rayudu for the number four slot. Dinesh Karthik’s inclusion meant curtains for 22 year-old Rishabh Pant.
In this situation came KL Rahul. Chief selector MSK Prasad, post the selection meeting, said that the right-handed Mangaluru boy would be a reserve opener—and that the team management would take a call if need arises.
And it did.
Vijay, the favoured No. 4, hurt his right forearm on the eve of the first warm-up match against New Zealand. Rahul stepped in his place. He started perfectly with a glorious cover drive at The Oval—arguably the best shot of the day—but got out on the next ball, attempting to cut Trent Boult at 6.
A couple of days later, the team faced Bangladesh in Cardiff. Shankar was fired up and ready to go. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a decent start and went wicketless.
Rahul, on the other hand, made the best out of the situation. Once again, like in the first warm-up game, he arrived after the early fall of the openers. But this time around, he didn’t give away his wicket—he stood his ground, found shorter boundaries, and then redirected pressure with his silky strokeplay.
Bangladesh were keen on identifying their fifth and sixth bowling options before the main tournament. Rahul, along with MS Dhoni, made sure that came at a cost.
Captain Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri were out on the balcony at the Sophia Gardens Stadium and cheered Rahul's century. Why wouldn’t they? It’s been a while since India’s middle-order graced the day—and hey, who better than the number four?
"The biggest positive to come out of this game was the way KL batted at four," Kohli said after India beat Bangladesh in Cardiff.
"All the other people know their role pretty well, so it was important that KL gets runs because he is such a sound player. He can get the scoreboard ticking and you saw that—a great example of the skillset that he has."
For Rahul, it’s been a challenging 18 months as he struggled in Test cricket since the South Africa tour last year.
The 27-year-old never really got a run of games in one position—at number four, he has played only four of the total 14 one-day matches, scoring at an average of 13. He was never really a prospect as the team management preferred Ambati Rayudu for the slot until March.
Form sure is on Rahul’s side, however, it would be early to make a decision. As is often the case, we don’t really see which player is performing well in the nets—and that is crucial for the team management to make a decision.
In fact, it would be cruel to leave out Vijay Shankar for the opener. He was recovering from a freak injury and could well have had an off day.
With Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan failing to register a good score, India might want to strengthen their batting line-up.
Remember this: Rahul was an outsider in the run for the number four spot. But this well-timed shot—both in his strokeplay and the century scored—might as well earn him a place in India’s first game against the Proteas on June 5th.