Can India afford to persist with an off-color KL Rahul anymore?
KL Rahul

Guwahati: On the eve of the game against South Africa, India’s batting coach Vikram Rathour said a couple of failures aren’t a big enough “sample size” to drop a struggling KL Rahul.  On Sunday, the Karnataka right-hander succumbed to a third successive single-digit score at the ongoing T20 World Cup.

Rahul’s prolonged slump in form, especially in pitches that offer assistance to the seamers, has attracted criticism from all quarters. Former Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar had termed the India vice-captain’s approach as being scared to quality seam bowling.

At the Optus Stadium in Perth, which stayed true to its promise of offering variable bounce and pace to the seamers, KL Rahul lasted 14 deliveries for his 9 runs. Yes, he managed to deposit Wayne Parnell over the deep midwicket fence for a six in the third over but never found himself comfortable in the middle before eventually falling prey to Lungi Ngidi.

So how long can India persist with the non-performing vice captain? Prior to India’s departure Down Under, Rohit Sharma said that the team management considered Virat Kohli as the second opening option. Whether Rahul Dravid and Co walk the talk in the next few games or stick to the same template is their decision but with Rishabh Pant sweating it out at the nets at every venue, the southpaw can be a good option going forward.

Now, coming back to the match, it wasn’t Rahul alone who was at the receiving end of Ngidi’s fury. Barring Suryakumar Yadav, the rest of the Indian top order could hardly escape from Lungi’s assaults. Introduced in the fifth over of India’s innings, the pacer reduced the men-in-blue to 42/4 in a span of three overs.

Notwithstanding the precarious situation, Yadav displayed why he is regarded as one of the world’s best T20 batter at the moment. The Mumbaikar slammed his 11th half century in the shortest format to bail India out of trouble. His effort of 68 off 40 deliveries provided the bowlers some cushion as India managed to finish on a below-par 133/9.

Blame it on the Indian batters’ careless approach or the jinx associated with the pitch, all four matches played at the Optus Stadium have been low-scoring affairs. Sunday was no different!

In reply, Aiden Markram (52) and David Miller (59 not out) struck timely half centuries to help South Africa overcome a shaky start after left-arm pace sensation Arshdeep Singh struck twice in a span of three balls in the second over. And to the Proteas’ misfortune, skipper Temba Bavuma’s poor run continued, after being dismissed for a nervy 10.

While India had their chances on the field, Rohit Sharma admitted to the team’s failures to grab on to the chances, including a dropped catch of Markram by Virat Kohli when the batter was batting on 35.

“It was a match-winning partnership from Miller and Markram. We have played in such conditions so conditions are not an excuse. We want to be consistent in that department. We could not hold on to our chances, we missed a few run-outs including myself,” Rohit said after the game.

Eventually, South Africa managed to pocket the tie by five wickets, to leapfrog India to the top spot in the Group 2 table, and set one foot in the knockouts.

So does India’s loss affect arch-rivals Pakistan’s semifinal hopes?

Yes, it does, and Babar Azam & Co, who opened their account in the points tally with a 6-wicket win over the Netherlands earlier in the day, will now have to bank on Bangladesh pulling off an upset against India on Wednesday, besides winning their remaining two Group matches.

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