“I have had a few injuries in my short career and I have realised it’s very difficult to come back from an injury straight into international cricket,” said K.L. Rahul on January 12 about a turbulent 2022, minutes after being adjudged player of the match during India’s ODI versus Sri Lanka in Kolkata.
Rahul had explained how he found that an injury changes a “person”, how the body “doesn’t react the same way” to a situation and how he has understood that it’s “challenging” to cope with the expectations of performing when you are “straightaway put into international cricket”.
Eight months from the day, Rahul - whose international career has been a start-and-stop affair due to fitness issues - will face perhaps the toughest challenge of returning from an injury layoff. But that is not it.
Having recovered from a quadriceps surgery after hurting his thigh during the Indian Premier League in May and the groin injury he suffered just before the Asia Cup, Rahul is expected to strike a balance for India, starting with the high-intensity clash versus Pakistan on Sunday and lasting right till the end of the World Cup.
No wonder then that Rahul was in the limelight on Thursday morning when six India players trained indoors at the Nondescripts Cricket Club. Seldom did Rahul, the stylish batter, appear out of touch during his batting drills and had multiple chats with head coach Rahul Dravid during the team’s optional training session.
He was also involved in a short game of mini-footie along with the other squad members who turned up for a hit - Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, Hardik Pandya, Suryakumar Yadav and Shardul Thakur. Since there was hardly any space in the indoor facility, Rahul did not don the wicketkeeping gloves.
Should the Colombo weather remain clear on Sunday, Rahul will be expected to play a dual role - of wicketkeeper and batter - versus Pakistan at the R. Premadasa Stadium.
The challenge will be multifold. Having lost his place in the Test side and with the selection committee favouring younger players for T20s, ODI cricket is now Rahul’s primary format.
But Ishan Kishan has emerged as a reliable option for a similar role. In Rahul’s absence, Ishan played a pivotal role in shaping India’s innings in a rain-marred league clash against Pakistan last weekend in Pallekele.
Moreover, Rahul hardly has any leeway in regaining his mojo before the World Cup starts. India’s three - possibly four - games in the Asia Cup are in danger of being a no-show due to the weather threat. That may leave him with just three ODIs against Australia to get back into his new self.
Rahul at times receives unnecessary flak on social media for being favoured by the team management. But the fact that he has been backed by multiple captains and head coaches over the last five years stresses that the management finds a good enough reason to invest and back him to succeed at the highest level.
It is time for Rahul to translate all the support into consistent success at the highest level over the next two months. Can he start it on Sunday?
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