Inconsistencies continue to hamper KL Rahul's progress despite sublime talent

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Rahul's woes against the incoming delivery are becoming evident.

The first Test scorecard between India and West Indies in Rajkot made for pretty reading for fans of the Men in Blue, with the hosts going on to register their biggest-ever innings win in the format.

Three of India’s batsmen notched up tons in the game while Cheteshwar Pujara and Rishabh Pant narrowly missed out on one. All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja was among the three centurions with the southpaw bringing up a maiden Test ton in the comforts of his home ground.

The scorecard, however, did not reflect well on KL Rahul. On a flat track where India enjoyed the best of the batting conditions, the opener was the only specialist batsman who had reason to be disappointed with his display.

Rahul was dismissed for a four-ball duck in the very first over of the match after being trapped lbw by Shannon Gabriel. It was a sharp inswinging delivery by the West Indies pacer that did for the batsman, despite a desperate review by the 26-year-old, which proved to be futile.

It was the continuation of the Kings XI Punjab star’s susceptibility to the incoming delivery in recent times. In his last 11 innings in international cricket, Rahul has been bowled or adjudged lbw a whopping 10 times.

In India’s recent tour of England, the majority of the batsmen’s failings were due to their vulnerability to the moving ball bowled around the off-stump line. Most of the modes of dismissals of India’s batsmen were either caught-behind by the wicket-keeper or in the slip cordon.

Getting bowled is becoming a regular occurrence for Rahul.

Getting bowled is becoming a regular occurrence for Rahul.

Rahul’s failings, however, were more to do with the incoming delivery. Of the 10 innings he played in the five-match series in England, the Karnataka batsman was bowled on five occasions while being dismissed lbw three times. Four of those dismissals came against the incoming delivery.

While his failings against the inswinger are becoming all the more evident, Rahul’s 2018 form will be another point of concern for the Indian team management.

For all his outrageous talent with the bat, consistency has eluded the batsman ever since he made his Test debut for India in the 2014-15 tour of Australia. A century in the Sydney Test confirmed he had the tools to flourish in the red-ball arena but a string of low scores followed before he roared back into form with a century at home against Sri Lanka.

Another lean phase followed that ton before Rahul smashed a superb 199 against England in Chennai towards the end of 2016. Rahul carried over that form into 2017 which was his most prolific season to date. The opener registered a record seven consecutive half-centuries in the format as he finally looked to be fulfilling his immense promise.

Rahul's 2017 consistency has completely evaporated.

Rahul’s 2017 consistency has completely evaporated.

However, his consistency has faded away big time once again in 2018 where disastrous tours of South Africa and England have punctured his confidence.

A half-century against Afghanistan at home and a fluent 149 in the dead rubber against England at the Oval are Rahul’s only saving grace in the format in the calendar year.

In 16 Test innings this year, the opener has aggregated just 383 runs at an average of just under 24. If his Oval hundred is excluded, Rahul averages a meagre 15.60, a far cry for a batsman whose undeniable talent was in fine show for Kings XI Punjab in this year’s IPL.

Rahul’s unending inconsistencies have already seen him fail to tie down a spot in the limited-overs formats as well. While his free-flowing game looks to be more suited to white-ball cricket, Rahul has squandered his chances there too. In the recently concluded Asia Cup, he was not picked in the playing XI for the final despite registering a 60 against Afghanistan in his most recent innings.

That he was able to aggregate only 61 runs in the eight innings preceding that might have played a part in the team management’s decision to pick Ambati Rayudu ahead of him.

2018 was meant to be Rahul’s year to establish himself permanently in India’s Test and limited-overs set-ups after his initial inconsistencies. But for a batsman who should be now entering his peak, Rahul’s numbers leave a lot to be desired.

Time is running out for the batsman and the final Test against the West Indies might be his last chance to rediscover some form before the team for the year-end tour to Australia is picked.

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Wahab Riaz's 2019 World Cup dreams get a shot in the arm with Pakistan Test recall

Waseem Ahmed 30/09/2018
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Wahab Riaz is making his Test comeback in the series against Australia.

A few months ago Wahab Riaz was derided for his work ethic by Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur.

“He has not won us a game in two years. I expect players that have been around for a long time to be winning us games and setting standards. Otherwise we will invest in younger players who have long futures. We have good youngsters around,” Arthur had told ESPNCricinfo in April.

“I cannot fault Wahab when he has a ball in his hand but his work ethic around training is something needs to be looked at,” the South African had added.

Those statements by Arthur were made in April after the 33-year-old pacer was omitted from the list of the 25 probables for Pakistan’s tour of Ireland and England.

It was a strange statement given the left-armer’s display in his most recent Test for Pakistan. The fast bowler was the best performing Pakistan pacer in their loss to Sri Lanka in the second Test at Dubai last year with a five-wicket match haul.

Wahab had picked a five-wicket haul in his last Test for Pakistan.

Wahab had picked a five-wicket haul in his last Test for Pakistan.

With his advancing age, it would have been easy to assume that Wahab’s international career had come to a permanent halt after the remarks made by Arthur.

However, an underperforming Mohammad Amir has opened the doors for the pacer’s return with Wahab being recalled for Pakistan’s upcoming Test series against Australia.

Amir’s wicketless display on the slow tracks of the UAE in the just concluded Asia Cup counted against him as the selectors announced the squad for the Australia series.

Wahab’s return to the squad seems justified given his ‘work ethic’ on the pitch.

As Arthur admitted, Wahab’s work ethic with the ball in hand cannot be doubted. Often he has bowled tireless spells on lifeless pitches and conjured something out of nothing.

His fiery spell against Shane Watson at the 2015 ICC World Cup clash against Australia is still fresh in the memory of fans.

His record in Tests held in the UAE speak for itself. In seven Tests Wahab has played on UAE soil, he has picked up 25 wickets at an average of just over 30. In comparison, Amir’s returns in the UAE are a dismal seven wickets from four games at an average of 56.42.

Wahab's fiery spell to Watson was a treat to watch for cricket fans.

Wahab’s fiery spell to Watson was a treat to watch for cricket fans.

Amir’s ineffectiveness on UAE pitches came to the fore in the Asia Cup. That might be the only reason behind Wahab’s return for now but the two Test series presents him with a chance to work his way back into contention for the 2019 World Cup in England.

“At the moment, being selected for the 2019 World Cup for Pakistan and performing well is my main, and only, priority at this time. There is also the 2020 World T20 on the horizon but I am firmly focused on playing in the 2019 World Cup at the moment,” he had told PakPassion.net in August.

Pakistan’s leading wicket taker in the 2015 World Cup, Wahab’s return to the side might not have come in the ODI format but the Australia Tests could be his chance to prove Arthur wrong with regards to his work ethic in training.

The 2019 World Cup is less than a year away but there is enough time for Wahab to make that dream come true.

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Australia series the perfect chance for Pakistan to erase their painful Asia Cup memories

Waseem Ahmed 29/09/2018
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Sarfraz Ahmed's men were unable to do justice to their 'favourites' tag.

As an off-colour Pakistan crashed out of the Asia Cup following defeat to Bangladesh in their final Super Four clash, under-fire skipper Sarfraz Ahmed admitted to having ‘sleepless nights’ over his and the team’s dismal showing in the tournament.

It was a tournament Pakistan had entered as heavy favourites after their ICC Champions Trophy win over India last year coupled with excellent results in the limited-overs formats of late.

The team was after all riding high on confidence after demolishing Australia and Zimbabwe in a T20 tri-series earlier as well as blanking the latter in a five-match ODI series.

With the familiar setting of their ‘home’ venue in the UAE, it was hard to look past Sarfraz Ahmed’s men, especially after India opted to rest skipper Virat Kohli for the tournament.

What followed was a painful showing by the Men in Green who exited the competition with only two victories to show against their name in which one came against minnows Hong Kong.

Star opener Fakhar Zaman failed to come to the party after plundering runs at will in Zimbabwe while Mohammad Amir’s poor ODI form continued as the pace spearhead went wicketless in the tournament.

Crucial catches dropped on the field were another reason for Pakistan’s failure with the high standards the side has set since Mickey Arthur took over as coach dropping to an alarming level.

All in all, Pakistan have come away from a dismal tournament with plenty of questions to answer before the 2019 ICC World Cup gets underway. They have less than a year to figure out their combinations for the world event but for now, they will turn their attention to a two-Test series against Australia to be held in the UAE.

Fakhar Zaman's repeated failures cost Pakistan dear.

Fakhar Zaman’s repeated failures cost Pakistan dear.

While the series presents Pakistan with a chance to erase their Asia Cup memories quickly, it will also be an opportunity for them to reclaim their ‘fortress’ UAE.

Their most recent ‘home’ Test series in the UAE ended in defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka in October last year. That was the first time Pakistan had suffered a Test series defeat in the UAE ever since the Gulf nation became their alternate home venue in 2009.

In their wake lies an Australian team still reeling from the effects of the ball-tampering episode which occurred on their tour of South Africa earlier this year.

With star batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner unavailable due to their one-year bans, the Australia batting card does not inspire much confidence, especially in keeping with the slow and spinning tracks that can be expected in the UAE.

Their formidable pace battery has been vastly diminished after injuries to Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood ruled them out of the tour.

Australia are without the services of their two best batsmen against spin.

Australia are without the services of their two best batsmen against spin.

As such, there will not be a better time for Pakistan to play Australia in the familiarity of UAE conditions. With Yasir Shah, Shadab Khan and Bilal Asif in tow, the hosts will definitely look to conduct a trial by spin against the Aussies whose best batsmen to counter that threat have been banned by their own cricket board.

Mohammad Amir’s poor showing in the Asia Cup has cost him a place in the Test squad for the series but the left-armer’s services will hardly be missed in the UAE where spinners are expected rule the roost. He does not look like a force anymore on flat tracks and overseas assignments where conditions favour his swing will be the best bet for him to regain his flailing confidence.

There is no doubt that Sarfraz and his men are hurting right now following that subpar performance in the Asia Cup. But, a victory against a depleted Aussies will help them overcome much of it while at the same time help them reclaim their proud record in the UAE.

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