That sinking feeling. Only one-and-a-half Test matches into his career, KL Rahul already knew all about it too well. He’d been thrown into the deep end at the MCG. Without a float. Without a life-jacket. Without a warning. And he had drowned. The pressure of expectation had weighed him down and he had sunk to the bottom with it.
Two atrocious and uncharacteristic shots had ensured a horror show of a debut. The SCG was expected to be redemption. A second chance for a young man to make amends. After the MCG, it felt like the whole of Australia was empathising with him. As a sportsman, that is the worst place to be in. When you have everyone feeling sorry for you. Then, for good measure, he dropped a sitter in the early half of the opening day, ensuring that India had gotten off on the wrong foot again.
So when he came out to bat in India’s first innings on the second day, Rahul was still out of breath, out of ideas and seemingly out of depth to be at this level.
The act of occupying the crease and grafting for runs came as naturally to him as breathing itself. That is, in domestic cricket. But this was Test cricket. And here, it felt like he had forgotten how to breathe. The game had given him a serious rap on the knuckles at the very start.
A bundle of nerves
He was nervous, anxious as a youngster from hinterland on his first day in an urban college. He wanted to make an impression and get rid of any negative perception that he had generated about himself with his disastrous debut.
When the the first boundary came, there was a release, and finally a deep breath. It came through a pull shot, the same shot that did him in during the second innings at the MCG. Rahul swivelled and sent the Josh Hazlewood delivery scurrying across the SCG outfield. He had been stuck on 9 off 34 deliveries till that boundary came. He finished the day unbeaten on 31.
On Thursday came the expected squeeze by Ryan Harris. Breathing was back to being an enormous chore for Rahul again. The oxygen flow had been cut-off. He had gone 31 balls without scoring. The Australians had given him nothing. They had operated outside his off-stump like they had blinders on and couldn’t see anything else but the channel outside off-stump.
Something had to give. Was it going to be Rahul’s nerves?
Just then Shane Watson offered Rahul another release. A short and wide delivery that the right-handed opener dispatched to the point boundary. Off the next 52 balls he faced, Rahul scored only 10 runs. By now, the half-century had been reached. He had survived a run-out chance too despite being sprawled on the floor and having to jump into his crease with no bat in hand — reminiscent of the many gully matches we all have played over the years with only one at our disposal. He had also been dropped by Steve Smith. But somehow, he stayed afloat.
At the other end, a even nervier Rohit Sharma had fallen to yet another soft dismissal. As Rahul walked back out after the lunch-break, he had Virat Kohli for company. Someone who was oozing with confidence. And before long, we would realise it had rubbed off on the 22-year-old Karnataka opener.
Within six deliveries in the second session, he had his first boundary. A full delivery from Hazlewood that Rahul leaned into and blazed through the covers. This is the Rahul we know, said those who have seen the youngster develop over the years, including his IPL coach Tom Moody. As cover-drives go, it was hardly as exquisite as the ones coming off the bat of Kohli at the other end. This was a nerdy cover-drive, somewhat a fair reflection of the orchestrator of the shot.
A polite caress
For everything about Rahul screams polite. Often you have to strain your ears to hear him. His batting’s not too different. There’s absolutely no menace in any shot he plays.
By now, Steve Smith was into the attack. He pitched short twice, and both times Rahul pivoted on his front heel and pulled the Australian captain away for fours. Rahul wasn’t just afloat now, he was straddling the waves. The shore was in sight. A six off Nathan Lyon over the mid-wicket fence put him in the 90s. The nerves were back, but only briefly this time. The second new-ball was in use. For once, the Kookaburra was swinging. This was to be Rahul’s final test.
And when Starc lost his line slightly, Rahul was ready to guide the ball past gully for four. Almost simultaneously came a cry of pure joy. He had done it. The young man had swum the deep seas and emerged from it unscathed and richer by a Test ton. Not to forget the promise for a bright future. It was finally time for him to exhale.
Spider camera causes concern
The Spidercam has often come under flak from a number of cricketers owing to its highly invasive aspect. On Thursday at the SCG, it actually ended up invading the action when it appeared straight over Steve Smith as he prepared to take a catch and spilled it. A very angry Smith pointed at the camera wires screaming, “the f****ng wire”, blaming the Spidercam’s cables for having interfered with his line of sight. The opportunity had come through a top-edge off KL Rahul’s bat when the opener was still in his 40s.
It’s learnt that Smith even took up the issue with Channel 9, the official broadcasters, during lunch. He had expressed his concerns over the interference of the Spidercam while play is on earlier in the series too. But never before had the camera directly been involved with a piece of action.
In case the ball had made contact with the camera or the wires holding it in place, the umpire would have signalled it as a ‘dead ball’. At least that way Smith could have been spared the guilt of having dropped a fairly straightforward chance.
Both Channel 9 and Cricket Australia insisted the ball never touched either the camera or its apparatus. It was the broadcasters who came under the hammer with a number of voices lamenting about their insistence to enhance their coverage by using the Spidercam. But it is learnt that it is CA who insisted on having the camera for the whole summer.
Channel 9 spends around $1 million to procure and to set up the Austria-based camera. The positioning of it is decided and maintained by an agreement between the broadcaster and the third-umpire. When Rahul miscued his pull, Spidercam was positioned right over the slip cordon and was in Smith’s line of sight as he ran back from second slip and tried to get under the ball.
As it turned out the Spidercam wasn’t active as always following Smith’s complaints and remained stagnant near the cover fence like an ignored guest at a relative’s wedding.