LONDON: Most of the talks after India’s win in the opening match against South Africa centred around the performance of the bowling unit and Rohit Sharma’s century. Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal and how they go about their job were the things in focus, as was the opener’s transformation from a free-flowing striker of the ball to someone ready to graft according to the need of the hour.
Unnoticed and unspoken about went a crucial aspect which dominated discussions before India had left for the World Cup. KL Rahul frittered away a good start in Southampton and what stuck out was the manner of dismissal.
The No 4 batsman of a top team should not get caught at mid-off and that’s exactly what Rahul did, miscuing a lofted drive after making 26 off 42 balls. It looked ugly and unbecoming of someone occupying a central position in the batting unit.
While the team should still back Rahul and give him a fair run in a position he is not accustomed to, such lapses might become a cause of concern if they recur.
He was looking good in conditions not easy for batting and playing his part in reviving the Indian chase after the dismissals of Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, until that forgettable moment in the 32nd over of the innings. It meant that the team’s search for the right answer to a vital question continues.
Against a team like Australia which has far better balance in the attack than South Africa, Rahul will be a man under pressure. If he does take positives from the way he steadied the ship during the 85-run partnership with Rohit Sharma, replays of that dismissal might reduce some of that satisfaction.
On the other hand, what could comfort Rahul is the fact that the team seems willing to back him. Speaking to the media on Saturday, Rohit Sharma didn’t sound too perturbed about it.
“I think that ball got stuck on the pitch. He had played about 40 deliveries and must have thought he was in. When you play a certain number of balls, you try and put the pressure on the bowler at some time.
"Otherwise, you can't score runs. I think he was trying to push it between mid-off and extra-cover but unfortunately, the ball stopped a bit.”
The vice-captain of the Indian team also seemed satisfied with the way Rahul was shaping up until that moment.
“He looked very good and compact, didn't panic and shared a crucial partnership. He might not have got a big score, but 26 on that pitch was as good as 50-plus. From whatever chats we've had with him, he seems confident. He knows what needs to be done in this position. He has the game and technique to bat there.”
Known for making frequent changes in the XI, Virat Kohli has to show faith in his new No 4 for at least a few matches before deciding whether Rahul fits in there. Before him, none of those tried out there were given a long enough run.
It will a testing time for the batsman as well, considering that India’s opponents in the next few matches are known to possess good bowlers. If it’s Mitchell Starc & Co on Sunday after that game await New Zealand and Pakistan.
So it’s going to be a trial by fire of sorts for Rahul in a big event. Not the ideal situation, but it’s something this team has created.