Fulfilling a promise, Lokesh Rahul announced his arrival in Test cricket with a gritty ton in only his second match at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Rahul is among a clutch of young Indian prodigies who used domestic cricket as a platform to make the ultimate grade. His riches don't come from fat IPL pay-cheques but a repertoire of strokes and sound temperament.
Thursday was a make or break day for Lokesh Rahul. The 22-year-old Karnataka batsman was unbeaten on 31 at stumps on Day 2 on Wednesday. After a horror debut at the MCG, where he scored all of four runs in two innings, Rahul knew survival was key at Sydney. Having batted at the middle order in Melbourne, Rahul was promoted to his customary position as an opener after the Indians benched Shikhar Dhawan. Rahul grabbed the opportunity with both hands. (Lokesh Rahul thanks patience, Virat Kohli for ton)
With good technique, Rahul mixed caution and aggression in perfect measure to handle the Aussie bowlers on a slow track. Shots were played on either side of the wicket and his drives through covers looked as elegant as the pull shots against Steve Smith's part-time leg-spinners and Nathan Lyon's off-mark off-spinners. He thrived in the company of Rohit Sharma (53) to add 97 for the second wicket before pairing up with the flamboyant Virat Kohli to add 141 for the third wicket. Rahul was finally caught and bowled Mitchell Starc after he had scored a fine 110.
On his debut at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Rahul had looked nervous and played forgettable shots against Lyon in the first inning and Mitchell Johnson in the second. As if that was not enough, the rookie dropped the dangerous Chris Rogers at slips and made some silly errors on the field. By his own admission, Rahul had panicked in the Boxing Day Test. "I was too eager to score runs in my first match. Here at the SCG, I wanted to spend more time and decided to leave the balls early," Rahul said.
Like for any other cricketer, Rahul's rise from domestic cricket to the Test side was rigorous and tough.
Rahul had slammed twin tons for South Zone in the Duleep Trophy final against Central, sending out a timely reminder to the national selectors as they met to pick the Test squad for the Australia tour in early November. It was an apt reward for a man who was the second-highest run scorer in 2013-14, with 1158 runs at 52.63. Rahul played crucial knocks as Karnataka won the Ranji Trophy title last season.
The Mysore lad has been striking the right chords for four years since making his first-class debut. He averages an impressive 51.21, having amassed 2100 runs from 27 matches. The icing on the cake were his two innings in the Duleep final at Feroz Shah Kotla as national selectors Vikram Rathour and Saba Karim watched from the stands. Rahul immediately got a thumbs up from his namesake, Rahul Dravid, who wanted the youngster in the India Test squad as the third opener.
Up against the likes of Pankaj Singh, Ishwar Pandey, Piyush Chawla and Jalaj Saxena, Rahul slammed 185 and 130 to rightfully stake a claim in the Indian side for what will undoubtedly be a tough tour.
Dravid had watched Rahul come up the ranks closely. The former India captain has spoken highly of Karnataka's latest run-machine and felt he deserved a break in the Indian team, especially on the tough Aussie tour. Much like Dravid, Rahul likes to build his innings. The comparisons with Dravid after his consistent performances, especially over the last season, were inevitable. Rahul rattled up over 1000 runs and showed time and again his ability to wage lonely wars, even as his more experienced state mates struggled.
On Thursday, at one of the most iconic cricket venues in the world, Rahul showed how right Dravid was all along.