Will KL Rahul follow his ODI template and move into a middle-order role to revive his Test and T20I careers? With India set to play seven Tests over the next two-and-a-half months, that question has cropped up a few times already. On Saturday, Rahul, India’s stand-in captain, addressed those lingering questions ahead of the first ODI in Johannesburg.
“I don’t know about all formats, right now my focus is on this ODI series,” Rahul said. “Yes, I’ll be doing the same role. I’ll be wicketkeeping and batting in the middle order. After that, yes, I would be happy to take up that role even in the Test matches.”
Rahul last played a Test in February 2023, and lost his place at the top of the order to Shubman Gill after four low scores in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. A hip injury in the IPL then ruled him out of contention for the WTC final and the subsequent Test series in the Caribbean.
In this time, Yashasvi Jaiswal has had an excellent Test initiation as opener and Gill has been anointed as India’s new No. 3. With Shreyas Iyer also set to reclaim his middle-order spot, Rahul’s only immediate way back in could be if he keeps wicket.
“I’ve always been open to doing new roles and accepting whatever role the team wants me to perform,” Rahul said. “So I’m happy to do whatever the management, coach and captain ask of me. If that’s the role the team sees me in, I’m happy to do that.”
What about T20s? As things stand, India have only three more T20Is against Afghanistan to narrow down their combination ahead of the T20 World Cup in June, so IPL form is likely to have a massive bearing on the squad composition.
This has the potential to make things tricky for Rahul, since he opens the batting for Lucknow Super Giants. Is there a chance, then, that he might move to the middle order there too? For Rahul, it’s about doing whatever helps him make up for lost time after enduring his fair share of injuries.
“Yeah of course, I want to play for the country, I want to play as many games as I can,” Rahul said. “Unfortunately I’ve missed a lot of cricket due to injuries. So yeah, I would like to make the most of my time and play as many games as I can whatever the role is.
“Whatever is expected out of me, I’ve done that throughout my career so far, I don’t think that is going to change, whatever is expected of me. For me the team always comes first. When we started playing the game one of the first things that was taught to us was it’s a team game.
“It’s a cliched line, but as you play more you understand no position is yours. But as you play more, you understand when it’s a team game no position is yours. You have to be able to perform whatever the team requires. You have to be flexible, and adjust and do your best for the team.”
Before the Test series, Rahul will lead India in the ODIs. It’s a role he performed on India’s previous tour too, in 2021, where India were beaten 3-0 in the format. This time around, Rahul leads a predominantly young squad, without seniors such as Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami.
He’ll also have a new support-staff group – comprising Sitanshu Kotak, Rajib Datta and Ajay Ratra – to work with, with Rahul Dravid overseeing India’s preparation for the two-Test series. Rahul admitted to feeling a bit strange when asked about the prospects of playing ODIs again in the aftermath of a draining World Cup campaign with players and coaches coming in and out.
“Yeah, it does feel a bit strange, but that’s how the game is going,” he said. “The schedule is such that not every player can be available for every format. Unfortunately the coach also has a bigger responsibility. The Test series is obviously the focus, but having said that, it gives some of us players a good opportunity to take up the extra responsibility and play our best cricket and still win the game.
“Nothing changes for us. Every time we represent the country, we want to play well and win. The guys that are here are all very deserving of their call-up to the national team. They’ve all performed really well and I trust each of them. The selectors have shown faith and given them this opportunity. So we trust all of them to do the job and compete really hard here and win the series.”
Will India look to carry forward the same template they displayed at the World Cup? Rahul suggested they would look to, though it would be difficult to expect the younger group to take on certain roles, such as the all-out aggression adopted by Rohit Sharma at the top of the order.
“I don’t think a lot will change in terms of of how we want to play ODI cricket,” he said. “But there are a few new faces, so to expect them to play the role that Rohit Sharma played in the World Cup will be too soon. You have to make them feel comfortable. So there’s no added pressure from our side.
“We need to focus on what’s in front of us. How we played in the World Cup was really good, was very exciting. But we need to figure out here what works for us, what works for this Indian team in these conditions and try and adapt.”