The situation surrounding KL Rahul’s availability will likely become clearer by the weekend or early next week when the Indian batsman is scheduled to participate in a practice game in Bengaluru. There’s even a possibility that he might feature in a couple of matches before a final decision is reached regarding his readiness for an international comeback.
As of the present moment, it can be stated that Rahul isn’t at 100 percent fitness. The National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru has not yet formally communicated about the all-clear to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the national selection committee, despite some reports and indications suggesting otherwise.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t receive clearance by the time the selection committee meeting takes place, whether that’s later this week or next week. The key to his return hinges on the assessment of the NCA experts regarding how well he copes with the demands of batting and wicket-keeping.
Images and videos circulating on social media suggest that he is capable of handling the workload — a view that was also shared by those inside the NCA. They say he is looking in good shape.
Individuals close to him have also asserted that Rahul, who underwent thigh surgery in May due to a ligament tear sustained during an IPL match, has been able to manage about 85 percent of the required workload. This figure is significant as the remaining 15 percent needs to be demonstrated in an actual match scenario. Typically, players aren’t allowed to participate in practice games until they’ve reached the 85 percent benchmark. Besides, the NCA has a policy of not giving all-clear unless a player takes part in a match and returns unscathed. Whether the rule was followed in the case Jasprit Bumrah may be a pertinent question but the bowler in question is a different proposition.
Coming back to Rahul, it’s learned that the selectors, given the recent performances of the Indian batters in white-ball cricket, will value Rahul’s experience in Asia Cup. Having been a seasoned campaigner in international cricket for almost 10 years, he’s being eyed for the August 30 to September 17 tournament, as well as the subsequent World Cup in October and November. However, sources indicate that he needs to exhibit full fitness in both batting and wicket-keeping during a 50-over game before being considered for selection. How his body reacts the day after will also be a factor.
Other selection dilemmas
Rahul apart, the selectors face several dilemmas elsewhere too. When Ajit Agarkar & Co convene, the task won’t be straightforward. Some players will have to be left out, not necessarily due to lack of merit, but because of space constraints in a 15-member squad.
The proposed squad composition will consist of seven specialist batsmen, seven specialist bowlers, and one all-rounder – Hardik Pandya. Among the seven bowlers, the current notion involves four fast bowlers and three spinners. However, this could leave no room for Shardul Thakur, the all-rounder who has performed well to maintain his position.
Selecting Thakur would require sacrificing one specialist pacer, implying that one of Arshdeep Singh, Mukesh Kumar, Prasidh Krishna, and Jaydev Unadkat would have to be excluded and that may happen. The automatic inclusions among the pacers would be Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, and Jasprit Bumrah, unless unexpected events occur during the upcoming three-match T20Is in Ireland later this month. Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav look certain with Axar Patel and Yuzvendra Chahal vying for the third spinner’s slot. Leaving out either of them will be a tough call but seems unavoidable.
More than bowling, batting appears to be a concern, which contributes to the eagerness for Rahul’s return. Apart from Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and Shubman Gill, who are almost certain picks, no other batter seems to inspire confidence. Ishan Kishan might be added to this list, but Sanju Samson has not met expectations in the ODIs. Despite his dynamism, Suryakumar Yadav, in his own words, has struggled in the 50-over format. While Tilak Varma has shown promise in international cricket, some believe it might be premature to fast-track him into the ODIs. In essence, Agarkar & Co will find themselves with numerous bowling choices but fewer in the batting department.