Six years post his debut at the Mighty G, KL Rahul’s Test career, which has remained an unsolved mystery, looks set to come full circle, with him set to be recalled for the second Test, starting December 26. We look at the complete timeline of his 36-Test career and dissect the drama that unfolded.
A brain-fading debut (Dec 2014)
On the back of a 1033-run Ranji season in 2013/14, Rahul was handed a debut at the Mighty G at No.6. And well, it was a maiden outing to forget. Rahul posted scores of 3 and 1 in the match, and, flabbergastingly, perished twice attempting boundaries, leading people to question his temperament.
Redemption in Sydney (Jan 2015)
A 22-year-old Rahul would go on to erase the MCG nightmare and redeem himself in the very next Test in Sydney, spending 356 minutes at the crease and scoring a 262-ball 110 to smash all doubts about his credentials. This knock would also, subsequently, lead to people comparing him with Dravid, owing to the ‘Rahul’ factor.
The Hero or Zero phase (Aug 2015 - Jul 2016)
Post the Sydney Test, Rahul would endure one of the more bizarre phases: hit or miss, literally. He would post scores of 7, 5, 108, 2, 2, 2 and 158 in the seven innings that followed, enlightening and frustrating the fans in equal measure. After 6 Tests, Rahul’s numbers read as follows: 414 runs @ 37.63; 3 hundreds and 0 fifties.
The lean patch and the start-stop injury frustration (Aug 2016 - Nov 2016)
By the time the New Zealand series in 2016 beckoned, India were playing musical chair with their openers Vijay, Dhawan and Rahul, due to injuries and form. Rahul played the first Test against New Zealand and missed the next two due to a hamstring injury, and then also missed the first and third Tests versus England after playing in the second in Vizag. He also, during this time, was in the middle of a rough patch, averaging 26.00 across his previous 5 Tests with just one fifty-plus score.
The Chepauk turning point (Dec 2016)
Coming into the fifth and final Test against England with scores of 28, 32, 38, 0, 10, and 24 in his last six innings, Rahul needed to go big in Chennai to stamp his authority. And go big he did, producing a once-in-a-lifetime knock that would turn out to be the highest point of his Test career. Rahul smashed a 311-ball 199 that comprised 16 fours and 3 sixes, agonizingly falling short of a maiden double ton. So emphatic and clinical was his batting that many believed that at one point he was on track to dismantle Brian Lara’s 400, due to there being so much time left in the game. He didn’t quite manage that, but he successfully turned his career around.
Hundreds are for kids, Legends stick to fifties (Feb 2017 - Aug 2017)
The Chepauk 199 would mark the birth of Rahul 2.0, an ultra-consistent version that dreaded the three-figure mark. After notching up 4 centuries and just one fifty in his first 12 Tests, Rahul would go on to score 9 fifties and no hundreds in his next 7. He would end as the third highest scorer in the 2017 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, and equal the world record for the most consecutive fifty-plus scores in Test cricket (7). Between Feb and November 2017, his scores read 64, 10, 90, 51, 67, 60, 51*, 57, 85, 0 and 79. He had forgotten how to convert, but by mid 2017 he had firmly established himself as the country’s best Test opener.
After 20 Tests, his numbers read 1421 runs @ 45.83; 4 hundreds and 10 fifties.
Injuries, misfortune, cut-throat competition and in-out (Sep 2017 - Jan 2018)
Despite his form being exemplary, injuries - and misfortune - continued to plague Rahul throughout 2017. Although he scored 57 and 85 in the first two Tests in the Sri Lanka tour, those scores came on the back of a shoulder injury that ruled him out of IPL 2017, for which he had to undergo surgery. He then also missed the third Test of the Lanka tour in Galle owing to high fever.
And both Vijay and Dhawan, much to Rahul’s dismay, were invincible during this phase. While Vijay scored a 128 in the first Test of the return series against Sri Lanka, Dhawan had scores of 190, 119, and 94 under his belt across a four-Test stretch which dated back to the tour of Sri Lanka.
Rahul’s inability to convert starts coupled with his injury woes meant that he was overlooked for the 3rd Test against Sri Lanka in Delhi, after which he was also dropped for the first Test against South Africa in Cape Town. He did play the last two Tests against the Proteas, but only posted scores of 10, 4, 0 and 16.
The long rope and the English nightmare (Aug 2018 - Sep 2018)
Though disappointing in the South Africa tour, the selectors laid their faith in Rahul for the entirety of 2018, so much so that he was zeroed in as an automatic pick for the five-Test series against England. He controversially played the first Test in Birmingham at No.3 ahead of Pujara, but then moved back to his favoured opening slot for the next four Tests, pairing with either Vijay or Dhawan. Neither a change in position nor a change in partner mattered, though, as Rahul stank for 9 straight innings. He posted scores of 4, 13, 8, 10, 23, 36, 19, 0 and 37 in the first nine innings of the series, before striking a consolation career-saving 149 in the 10th innings at The Oval. By now not only had his hype fizzled out, but fans dreaded the sight of him holding the bat in the longest format.
The extension of the rotten run (Oct 2018)
Post the England tour India had moved on from Dhawan in Test cricket, and Rahul’s 149 in the fifth Test acted as a lifeline. He got what, many believed, was one last chance, this time opening with young Prithvi Shaw, but all he did was once again embarrass himself. He posted scores of 0, 4 and 33* and looked like he’d played himself out of contention for the Australia tour.
The career-crushing month Down Under (Dec 2018 - Jan 2019)
Owing to his experience, Rahul was included in India’s Test squad to face the Aussies, but while he was initially expected to warm the bench, a late injury to Shaw meant that the Karnataka man was needed to open alongside Vijay. Shaw’s injury ended his tour, but also pretty much Rahul’s Test career. Rahul, in the Australia series, turned out to be the literal definition of a walking wicket, scoring 57 runs across 5 innings. He posted 4 single digit scores and the situation escalated to the point where the management preferred to open with No.6 Hanuma Vihari for the Boxing Day Test, over the incumbent Karnataka man. If the England tour quite didn’t break Rahul, this one did - to a point of no return.
The final nail in the coffin (Aug 2019)
Rahul was a soulless figure in the longest format by now, but the Indian management, to quote Manjrekar, gave him two Tests versus the Windies just to be sure that he wasn’t good enough. And yes, with scores of 44, 38, 13, and 6, Rahul proved that he was indeed not good enough.
The unexpected recall (Dec 2020)
Rahul was then dropped for the subsequent home season and the tour of New Zealand, after which he played just one first-class match, where he posted scores of 26 and 0. Which is precisely why his inclusion in the ongoing tour of Australia has come as a massive surprise. His career will come full circle should he make the final XI at the MCG come Boxing Day.