Rahul leaves his calling card at No.4

KL Rahul gave two subtle odes to an old cricketing adage: Timing is everything. In their last 50-over game before the World Cup proper, India appeared to have finally identified their two-drop batsman, or at least forced to do so, by Rahul’s sublime 108. Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri were out on the balcony at the Sophia Gardens stadium and cheered Rahul’s century as he, egged on by fellow-centurion MS Dhoni, soaked in the ovation with a gentle bat raise.
The fervour in the dressing room for a warm-up game was understandable. The absence of a regular No.4 had left the team at sixes and sevens building up to the event, with Vijay Shankar, all of nine ODIs old, handed the proverbial right of first refusal by chief selector MSK Prasad during his World Cup squad announcement.
“To begin with KL [Rahul] will be reserve opener, if need arises the team management will take a call,” Prasad had added post the selection meeting. As it turned out, the need to bring Rahul back to the middle-order was necessitated by a freak injury to Vijay on the eve of the first World Cup warm-up against New Zealand. Rahul failed at The Oval, chopping on Trent Boult for 6, but the exceptional circumstances around that match – a green top at the Oval and overcast conditions – brought him a second throw of the dice, here in Cardiff.In retrospect, this chance was somewhat deserved given the 27-year-old never got a run of games at one position in ODIs – the kind of backing he has received in Tests through a barren run last year in England. In fact, Rahul has batted at two-drop in only 4 of the 14 ODIs he’s played, averaging a measly 13 in the position with a best score of 17. The idea of using him there was mooted on the tour of Sri Lanka in 2017, but he was yanked to Nos. 3 and 5 over the course of the series and found Akila Dananjaya hard to negotiate on spinning tracks, falling to the spinner all three times.
Rahul went through a white-ball metamorphosis of sorts at IPL 2018, scoring 659 runs (as opener) at a strike-rate of 158.41. That followed a 36-ball 70 in Ireland and a 54-ball 101 against England at Manchester, prompting Sourav Ganguly to lead the “Rahul at four for the World Cup” proclamations. But two scores of 9* and 0 in the ensuing ODIs later, and Rahul was consigned to the bench for the decider. He played a solitary game in the Asia Cup, as an opener against Afghanistan, and post his infamous talk-show episode, got one game against Australia in Mohali,