KL Rahul's poor form in the Tests and his selection has been the biggest talking point in Indian cricket for the last few weeks. Though he has been removed as the Vice-Captain of the Test team, many believe he should have been dropped from the squad much earlier.
Rahul's poor run in the format has been going on for some time now, but it became a big issue after former players like Venkatesh Prasad started pointing put out how despite having a dry run in the format, the batsman enjoys the team management's trust.
The former India pacer, who has been the staunchest critic of Rahul, questioned his place in the Indian team despite repeated failures. He also said that many believe that his overseas Test record' has led to maintaining his place in the team, but the stats say otherwise.
He highlighted that the Karnataka batter only has an overseas Test average of 30 in 56 innings.
"He has a test avg of 30 overseas in 56 innings. He has scored 6 overseas centuries but followed it up with a string of low scores that's why averaging 30. Let's look at a few others," Prasad tweeted with a graphic highlighting Rahul's overseas record.
Shikhar Dhawan has the best overseas average amongst recent openers. Avg of nearly 40 with 5 100’s. Though he too hasn’t been consistent in Test but had Outstanding centuries in SL and NZ, plus a much better home record. pic.twitter.com/rH94R0a3A0— Venkatesh Prasad (@venkateshprasad) February 20, 2023
KL Rahul has completely failed to perform against Australia in the Border-Gavaskar trophy. But even before this series started, he was not in great form either.
Rahul, in his 81 Test innings, has crossed the 50-run mark only 20 times, which includes seven hundreds and 13 half-centuries. In 47 Test matches, his average is just 33.4, and has scored 2,642 runs.
Since his last hundred at the Centurion in the Boxing Day Test, Rahul has played 11 innings but has failed on 10 consecutive occasions and scored just one fifty.
What is really appalling is the fact that India does not have a dearth of batters who can take his place. Players like Mayank Agarwal and Shikhar Dhawan have much better records. And we have talented batters like Shubman Gill and Sarfaraz Khan.
Mayank Agarwal, in 36 Test innings, has scored 10 50-plus knocks, with four hundreds and six half-centuries. Shikhar Dhawan, who last played Tests in 2018, in his 58 innings has scored seven hundreds and five fifties. His fifty-to-hundred conversion rate is really impressive.
Dhawan has the best overseas average amongst recent openers with an average of nearly 40 with five tons, and his record at home is much better.
Agarwal, who is 32 now, has an average of over 41 in 21 Tests with four centuries, and his home record is one of the best in recent times. His average at home is close to 70 in 13 innings with two double centuries and one 150-plus score.
These two may be the best options for comparison with Rahul, but there are others too. Gill too has been in great form in white-ball cricket, and in 14 overseas Test innings he averages 37. And as Prasad pointed out, if overseas performance is a criterion, Ajinkya Rahane, before being dropped, had one of the best overseas Test records, averaging over 40 overseas in 50 Test matches.
The decision to continue giving him chances after repeated failures clearly shows that form is not the only criterion here. The team management believes that Rahul is an asset and has better cricketing acumen than other players vying for his place.
Head Coach Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma have backed him. After India's win against Australia in the 2nd Test, Dravid said that this is just a phase, and that KL Rahul has been one of India's most successful overseas openers. "He's got hundreds in South Africa and England, we'll continue to back him. I believe he has the quality and class to come out of this," Dravid said.
Rohit Sharma also said that if a player has the potential, he will undoubtedly be given a longer run. "Of late, there has been a lot of talking about his batting, but, for us as a team, we just look at the potential of any individual, not just KL. If a guy has potential, he will get that extended run," he said.
KL Rahul is one of the cleanest hitters of the cricket ball. He has got the flair and has played some very good knocks in India and overseas. The team management has a lot of confidence in him and his understanding of the game led to him being named the Vice-Captain.
But these factors are not good enough to justify his place in the team when he has scored just one 50-plus score in the last 11 innings. His selection in the team and him being named the Captain's deputy (not anymore) despite having an average of just 33 in 47 Tests shows you why the criticism over his selection is justified.
It is okay to give a player with potential that extended run, but that doesn't mean you should do it at the expense of players who have been performing consistently.