Asia Cup: Will picking K.L. Rahul despite a niggle prove costly?

Team India’s desperation to get the multi-tasker ready for the World Cup, in a squad full of injury comebacks, is almost like a gamble

K. L. Rahul (Getty Images)
K. L. Rahul (Getty Images)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The K.L. Rahul conundrum continues to haunt the Indian cricket team, it seems. Soon after being declared fit from a hamstring injury, which ruled him out of action since the later stages of IPL, the senior pro was announced as a part of a jumbo squad for the Asia Cup on Monday - but again with a injury rider. 

If one thought that Ajit Agarkar, the newly appointed chairman of selection committee, would be able to infuse a greater degree of transparency on all fronts – then it hasn’t been a perfect start for the former allrounder. More so, at a time when the Indian team is struggling to turn a new leaf after a rash of injuries affected their performance throughout the past year. 

‘’It is not the original injury (hamstring injury). There is a niggle. That is why Sanju (Samson) is travelling (to Sri Lanka). We are expecting Rahul to be fit – if not at the start of the Asia Cup then may be the second or the third game,’’ Agarkar said in his first joint interaction with the media in the company of captain Rohit Sharma. 

Well, can you recall a parallel as to when was the last time a reserve player was flown as a stand-by specifically for someone – who has been named in the squad despite picking up a ‘niggle’ during the rehab at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) after coming out of a prolonged lay-off.

Will the selection committee and the team management be accountable if Rahul, who handles the demanding role of a keeper-batter in ODIs, cannot be match-fit in time during entire course of Asia Cup? 

In hindsight, the desperation of Rohit Sharma & Co to get back Rahul-Iyer-Bumrah into the scheme of things for the World Cup is understandable. The unavailability of Rishabh Pant for the ICC showpiece means that Rahul will have to keep the wickets and bat at number five to maintain the balance of the team – but does it still warrant inclusion of someone with questionable fitness for an event which is a dress rehearsal for the World Cup? 

It’s unfortunate but true that for Rahul, who has spent close to a decade in international cricket, the seemingly endless injuries have affected his consistency across all formats and also come in the way of establishing himself as captaincy material. Just reflect on his tryst with injuries over the last three seasons – a wrist injury prevented him from competing in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, then a left thigh strain prevented him from playing in the home Test series against New Zealand.

He then had a hamstring strain, which forced him to sit out both the home series against West Indies and Sri Lanka. A groin injury then scuppered his chances of leading the team against South India while he missed the England trip since he had to go to Germany for medical care. 

The injuries, alongwith the occasional loss of form, leaves Rahul with a somewhat underwhelming career average in ODIs – 1986 runs from 54 ODIs, with an average of 45.13 and a highest score of 112.

However, the 2019 World Cup in England saw Rahul in sublime touch in a makeshift opener’s role with an in-form Rohit – helping himself to a century apart from stitching together two huge opening partnerships. 

The desperation to end their decade long drought of ICC trophies is certainly telling on India, and they want to get all the experienced hands on the deck. However, one just hopes that the gamble with Rahul’s fitness does not prove counter productive! 

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Published: 22 Aug 2023, 7:13 PM