The KL Rahul Conundrum: A timeline
Not too long ago, just earlier this year to be accurate, KL Rahul was part of the Indian side in all three formats of the game.
He played the Test Series against England, ODI and T20 Series against England and then the Test Series against Australia.
But now, just through the middle of the home season for India, KL Rahul finds himself out of the ODI Squad and hasn't been included in the playing XI in the first two T20s against New Zealand.
For a batsman who seems to be as talented as him, is his ouster from the Limited Overs International (LOI) sides justified? That is a question a lot of the Indian supporters seem to be having. Let us trace through a timeline of events that has led to him being sidelined as far as the team selection for the LOIs is considered.
Limited Overs Internationals vs England Jan 2017
In the 3 ODIs that India played against England in Jan '17, his scores read 8, 5 and 11, all as an opener. That is definitely not impressive. However, he followed that up with scores of 8, 71 and 22 in the T20s against England.
He was the only batsman that got going when he scored that 71 in the second T20 of the series.
At this point, you could say his place in the T20 side is quite secure, but you would want to give him another ODI series before raising serious questions about his place in the ODI squad.
Test series against Australia, Feb-March '17
KL Rahul had a fantastic Test Series against Australia, scoring 393 runs that included 7 consecutive 50s.
Although he could not reach a 3 figure mark in the whole series, his run aggregate stood second only to Cheteshwar Pujara for India.
However, due to the shoulder troubles he had to endure throughout the series, he had to undergo a surgery right after the series. He went on to miss the IPL, the Champions Trophy and the ODI Series against West Indies because of the surgery.
The return of Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane
With KL Rahul missing out due to injury, Shikhar Dhawan got his chance to open in the Champions Trophy and he made a strong comeback.His scores in the Champions Trophy were 68, 125, 78, 46 and 21.
With both Rohit and Dhawan doing well in the Champions Trophy, it meant that these two would be back as the preferred opening pair for India in ODIs, pushing Rahul to the position of a reserve opener.
Immediately followed the series against West Indies in which Rohit Sharma was rested. With Rahul still missing due to injury, Rahane got his chance to open for India in the ODIs and he came up with strong performances as well.
He ended the series with 336 runs, which included a century and 3 half-centuries.Ajinkya Rahane Ajinkya Rahane returned to the ODI fold with strong performances. This now meant that KL Rahul would be pushed further down in the priority list of openers.
Rohit, Dhawan and Rahane had proven record against their names.
ODI Series against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka
With Yuvraj Singh's failures in the Champions Trophy and the West Indies ODI Series, India were now left to sort out their middle-order and a reliable No.4.
With Rohit, Dhawan and Rahane occupying the openers slot, India wanted to test out KL Rahul in the middle order. His scores against SL batting in the middle order read: DNB, 4, 17, and 7, getting out to spinners on all three occasions.
He scored 24 in the only T20 that India played on that tour. With the openers slot getting filled up, and Rahul not performing in the middle order, he would now have to warm the bench.
Australia ODI Series at home.
With Shikhar Dhawan making himself unavailable against Australia, KL Rahul was picked mainly as a reserve opener. But with Rahane doing well in the opener's role and the management wanting to have a look at Manish Pandey in the middle order, KL Rahul did not feature in the playing XI in any of the ODIs.
But he was a little unlucky not to play in any of the T20Is either, with the management opting for the combo of Rohit and Dhawan even for the T20Is.
With Rahane consolidating his position as the backup opener with a strong show against Australia at home and the management having decided to look past Rahul for the middle order, KL Rahul was left out of the ODI Series against New Zealand.
He is in the T20 Squad but Rohit-Dhawan combo has been given the preference as the openers. His failures in the middle-order in ODIs and having to search for a middle-order batsman means that India are now experimenting with Shreyas Iyer at 4 in the T20s, overlooking KL Rahul. Thus, KL Rahul now finds himself out of the ODI side and oddly excluded even from the T20 playing XI.
What's in store for KL Rahul in the future?
I believe that Rahul going out of favor for the LOI sides for India has to do with a combination of a lot of factors: A few bad performances, an injury, a couple of Indian openers making a strong comeback and of course some bad luck.
Looking ahead, what can Rahul do to come back into the Limited Overs International sides of the Indian team? Probably pretty much the one thing any one else can do: score runs whenever he comes out to bat, and hope the Indian top order fails more often. He has to hope that he is still the preferred opener along with M Vijay in the Test side and will have to just keep scoring runs.
With him being looked at only as a reserve opener, he can only hope that Rohit, Dhawan and Rahane fail miserably.
He does not seem to fit in the middle-order as of now. With India having to answer a few questions with their batting order and with instances of the top order failing in crucial situations, there is no hope lost for Rahul to make a comeback into the ODI side.
But he needs to start being more consistent with his starts and converting those starts. There is only one way to get into an Indian side for a batsman: score runs, heaps of runs, and hope the top order fails.