Five half-centuries, but KL Rahul remains a conundrum

Most of India’s batsmen enjoyed useful time in the middle as the rain which swamped Sydney on Wednesday moved away to allow a full day’s play at the SCG, although whether it prepares them for Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins is another thing entirely.
Against a modest but persevering attack containing a total of 36 first-class wickets – 16 of them to D’Arcy Short – five of the top six passed half-centuries with the strokeplay of Prithvi Shaw particularly eye-catching during the morning session. Virat Kohli looked in terrific touch and Hanuma Vihari made 53 batting at No. 6. The lower order, however, didn’t impress, and as India found on the tour of England, the tail can make a difference.
Against an inexperienced bowling attack in a match lacking competitive edge, it’s those that don’t score runs who stand out as much as those who do. One of the selection debates for India ahead of the series is what their opening partnership should be following M Vijay’s recall to the squad in place of Shikhar Dhawan. If those getting first dibs is any indication – and with such a limited warm-up period it surely must be – then KL Rahul will partner Shaw, who made a superb start to his career against West Indies. Shaw struck a sparkling half-century studded with 11 fours, but Rahul threw away his chance of time in the middle with a poor shot, driving on the up, to find mid-off in the sixth over of the day.
At close of play, India batting coach Sanjay Bangar didn’t sound too pleased with that shot.
“He has been looking in good shape, including today, it is just that he is finding new ways to get out,” Bangar said. “Even today, the ball was quite far and he played it away from his body and lost his wicket. But what we are reading is, he is playing the ball well and he is one hit away. We know his ability and if he converts that to performances then it is important for the team.
“He is not a young player anymore and he is on his second tour here. He has played 30 Tests and he has a responsibility. We expect him to play with that responsibility and play his role for the team.”
Rahul’s superb hundred against England at The Oval secured his place after a series where opening was fiendishly hard work, but then he missed out in his two first-innings opportunities against West Indies with 0 and 4. The top order will need tight techniques to survive the challenge posed by Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins so Rahul’s shot is not what India will want to see in Adelaide next week.
Maybe it wasn’t a bad thing that none of the India top order converted their starts into a big score – it ensured all the frontline batsmen were able to spend a decent length of time in the middle – and, by the end of the day, Ajinkya Rahane was retiring out to give others a hit. But they will need to make sure that fifty-and-out is not a habit that creeps into the Test series. Make it count when they get in. Cheteshwar Pujara can be excused his dismissal, beaten by a beautiful delivery from Luke Robins that clipped the top of off stump, and Kohli is well versed in going beyond fifty, though you could see his frustration when he fell after lunch. However, Shaw’s inelegant sweep at Daniel Fallins and Vihari’s rather tame lbw to Short were missed opportunities for three figures.
The balance of India’s side remains a hot topic. Will they play Ravindra Jadeja or R Ashwin as an allrounder or go for a sixth specialist batsman? Vihari, who also bowls some passable offspin, made his debut against England at The Oval where he scored a half-century in the first innings before being left out against West Indies when five bowlers were selected. It may be relevant that Vihari batted above Rohit Sharma in this innings, although given the nature of the match, conclusions are hard to draw. Rohit’s experience of 25 Tests could yet tip the balance. It is also worth noting that Jadeja wasn’t given the chance for a bat.
Bangar later said the opening and No. 6 slots were the positions “we have still not decided”.

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