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The KL Rahul conundrum: England luxuries too expensive for the greater good?

KL Rahul's talent is being wasted on the benches in England
KL Rahul's talent is being wasted on the benches in England
EXPERT COLUMNIST

If you're a KL Rahul fan and you've thrown a fair few tantrums in the recent past, there's a strong case to beg for forgiveness. For a man who's thrilled audiences and hurt opposition with some heroic knocks, Rahul's biggest cameos over the last few weeks have come on social media.

The thirst to see the stylish batsman in action is only growing, and it doesn’t seem like it will be quenched anytime soon.

While social media tools are powerful enough to merge a person's face into a popular movie scene or assist the art of making Dalgona coffee, it fails to extend a cricketer's career - on the field.

At this stage, it wouldn't be fair if you're left scratching your head while wondering what's happening, but you'd probably be in the same club as Rahul. After a long flight to the UK, Rahul didn't make the World Test Championship squad, and he's now making the most of the luxuries that England has to offer.

Long story short, Rahul should have been flown in the opposite direction to Sri Lanka instead of to England, that too with the T20 World Cup in a few months time from now.

One might argue that Rahul is in England as a back-up middle order batsman, but with Hanuma Vihari also waiting for his chance after recovering from an injury, there's not the slightest chance that the Karnataka lad is ahead in the pecking order.

That said, the BCCI opted to go with the 'best of the rest' template, and have picked some exciting youngsters in the squad, some of whom might not get to play because.. well.. there aren't enough matches and spots in the XI.

That begs the question - could Rahul have been picked, made captain and helped ease Arjun Ranatunga's pain? Probably a question that will never be answered.

KL Rahul's test as Indian T20I captain with Kohli unavailable

Rahul could find it tough to get sufficient match practice under his belt before the T20 World Cup
Rahul could find it tough to get sufficient match practice under his belt before the T20 World Cup

For those who are averse to Rahul as captain, the 29-year-old was the benefactor of an injury to Rohit Sharma, who was to lead the side in Virat Kohli's absence during India's tour of New Zealand in early 2020.

With Kohli and Sharma off the field, Rahul captained India and even led them to a 7-run win that sealed a 5-0 series drubbing over the hosts. If nothing else, that meant the management did see Rahul as a captaincy candidate for the senior team.

Fast forward a little over 16 months, India's "first-choice" T20I opener is currently spending the majority of his time either in hotel rooms or roaming the streets of the UK.

Rahul certainly does deserve the luxuries of England, but for a man who's only the 'second backup player' for a middle-order spot in the Test XI, he could have rather spent some time sweating it out in Sri Lanka.

But can you blame Rahul for what's happening?

Certainly not, and that's precisely why there needs to be a better reason than 'a secondary backup' as the rationale behind getting Rahul to board that flight to England.

Suggesting Rahul is in the country to 'practice' weathering the storm that could be produced by the England bowlers is just another excuse, for what it's worth. India's limited-overs series against Sri Lanka ends on July 25th, and Rahul could have been asked to hop onto the flight to England, serve a mandatory quarantine and still be ready to hit the nets before the start of the third or fourth Test.

The Rahul conundrum has further been fuelled by an unlikely injury to Shubman Gill, a costly excursion for the youngster which has put his England tour in jeopardy.

While the Rahul-faithful have caused quite some commotion on social media in their constant clamour for the right-hander to open the batting in Gill's absence, unconfirmed reports of Prithvi Shaw set to fly to England have blown this issue out of proportion.

All this disregarding the fact that Mayank Agarwal and Abhimanyu Easwaran - two naturally gifted openers - are quietly sitting and watching all the action from the sidelines.

Rahul's numbers at the top aren't too bad to be fair on him - 1915 runs in 54 innings at an average of just over 36 - but he last played a Test in West Indies back in 2019 and is now turned to primarily in a white-ball capacity.

Is there a solution for this 'Rahul conundrum'?

It's probably a little too late now for a solution of sorts, but the fact that Rahul's talent has been wasted in the United Kingdom has kicked up quite some dust.

The Indian team can only afford to play Rahul in the XI under only two scenarios - one of the middle order batsmen gets injured or the management is keen to rest the seniors for the latter half of the series.

Even in the above two cases, Vihari is likely to get the nod ahead of Rahul, which means the Bangalore-born star is all but certain to continue on this extended VIP trip sans any cricket.

Ideally, Rahul could have gained some valuable experience leading the team in Sri Lanka - no one's ever said too many Rahuls spoil the broth, have they?

While that would have cut short opportunities for youngsters to showcase their talent at the highest level, it would have made sense in the grander scheme of things - getting Rahul in prime form for the 2021 T20 World Cup.

And so, his time will come, probably when he resumes leading the Punjab Kings in the UAE during the second part of IPL 2021. Until then, enjoy his social media presence and take a deep breath. You can't blame him for being one of India's cricketing heartthrobs.

Edited by Habil Ahmed Sherule
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