Kannaur Lokesh Rahul, age 24, will do something he has never done before this winter. He will, in all probability, bat for India in a Test match in India. In his six Tests so far, dating back to December 2014, the youngster – who also doubles up as a wicketkeeper for the Bangalore Royal Challengers in the Indian T20 league – KL Rahul has played in three countries. He has not been first-choice in any of these Test matches, despite scoring a century at Sydney in only his second. Either Shikhar Dhawan or Murali Vijay has been injured, as was the case in Sri Lanka, and now in the West Indies.
But one senses that when he walks out to play his first Test in India soon, he will belong to the team. Dhawan will be under pressure, as will Pujara. A lot of things point to this inevitability:
– KL Rahul had played five Test matches before this year’s Indian T20 League, where his Royal Challengers reached the final. When Chris Gayle was dropped midway through, he filled in as an opener and impressed everyone with quickfire and resourceful fifties. When he was shuffled back down to five once Gayle was back, he again proved himself as a rescuer and finisher in a few games. His keeping left much to be desired, but his batting went up a notch in limited overs cricket – making him a first pick for India’s second-string ODI and T20 team in Zimbabwe. Many, including mentor Rahul Dravid, worried that his sudden form in this format would affect his five-day game. But in his first Test since August last year, KL scored 158 as an opener in Kingston.
– KL became the first Indian batsman ever to score a ton on his ODI debut in Harare earlier this year. The Test specialist, who had come up through first-class cricket on basis of solid technique and performances, was adjudged Man of the Series too.
– He now has three Test centuries and zero fifties in six Test matches – all three overseas, in Australia, Sri Lanka and West Indies. His next highest score after his centuries is 16, with seven single-digit scores out of his 11 innings. His inconsistency, though, seems to be a thing of last year, considering his recent surge in form. He is only the second Indian after Mohammad Azharuddin to score three centuries to begin his career without any fifties.
– All his three centuries in Tests have come as an opener. His first two came while opening with Vijay. His third last week came while opening with Dhawan.
– The Indian selectors will now consider dropping Cheteshwar Pujara, who has found it hard to score runs, to give KL Rahul a run at number three – which is the only place he can take. Dhawan’s place was in danger until he scored 80-odd in the first Test.
– Rahul’s rise has confirmed his reputation as the best batsman of the next generation, who will rise under the captaincy of Virat Kohli.
– Rahul has been dismissed only once in his three ODI matches. He averages 196, though all the runs came against Zimbabwe.
– Rahul averaged 44 with the bat in the year’s T20 league with Bangalore, scoring almost 400 runs, and being one of the key players that helped them to the final.
– Rahul brought up his first ODI century with a six. He also brought up his third Test century (against West Indies) with a six.