Up until last season, the Indian team was all about making players feel comfortable inside the dressing room.
With Anil Kumble in charge as coach, the team management made it clear it wanted to inculcate an atmosphere of confidence where players don’t have to worry about their spots in the team when they get injured.
It was normal, in all team sport, for performing players to be laid low by injury only for their replacements to come in, do a good job and take up their position. But the previous Indian set-up was clear that wasn’t going to be the case.
Which is why when Parthiv Patel came into the side during the Test series against England last year for the injured wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha and did a splendid job by hitting two fifties in four innings, he had to make way once Saha got fit as the selectors made it clear the management wants first-choice players to be back in the side whenever fit.
It looked like a perfect formula on paper as players could recover from injuries in peace and also not conceal injuries out of fear of being left out and then forgotten.
This year, that formula seems to have been thrown out of the window. At least in the case of top order batsman KL Rahul. In 2016, the Karnataka batsman was the only first-choice opener across formats. Then injuries started to take their toll.
He was ruled out of the third Test against England late last year after aggravating a forearm injury and then this year, missed out on the entire IPL and Champions Trophy due to a serious shoulder injury.
Before June, Rahul averaged 44 from 17 Tests, 55 in six ODIs and 56 in eight T20s. He is one of only 12 players to have centuries in all three formats.
KL Rahul was a part of both ODI and T20 teams vs Australia, didn’t play a game and now, he’s been excluded for the ODI team. 🤔 #IndvNZ— Aakash Chopra (@cricketaakash) October 14, 2017
But when he regained his fitness for the Sri Lanka tour in August, he was forced to bat in the middle order in ODIs as openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan had taken the world by storm during the Champions Trophy, finishing as the top two run getters in the tournament with more than 300 runs each in five innings.
Rahul played three ODIs in the middle order in Sri Lanka and failed. After that, he was selected for the limited overs matches against Australia but didn’t get to play a single match as the Indians won the rubber 4-1.
And now, Rahul finds himself dropped from the side for the upcoming ODI series at home against New Zealand as the management is now happy with Sharma and Dhawan as the front-line openers, Ajinkya Rahane as the back-up opener and Manish Pandey and Kedar Jadhav in the middle order.
Suddenly, the once first-choice opener doesn’t fit anywhere. Rahul made his name as an opener, was pushed to the middle order, tried out for three games and then basically cast aside.
If the same yardstick had been used in the case of Saha, Patel should have been given an extended run as he is the more accomplished batsman, can bat anywhere in the order and is a dependable gloveman, albeit not as good as Saha. But India gave up on the batting skills of Patel in favour of Saha’s better glovework. By the same parameter, Rahul’s superior technique and higher scoring rate should have put him ahead of at least Manish Pandey, keeping in mind the fact the next world World Cup will be played in England.
Whatever logic the management puts forward, losing out on an all-round top-order talent like Rahul looks like a monumental waste.
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