KL Rahul: Extra motivation for us

After two consecutive Test series victories in Australia in 2018-19 and 2020-21 and an encouraging 2-1 lead in England [with the rescheduled fifth Test to be played in Birmingham next year], all eyes are now on Team India’s final frontier—South Africa. Virat Kohli’s Indians will get into the action in Sunday’s Boxing Day Test at SuperSport Park, Centurion where they will look to register only their fourth Test win in the country.

Such has been the anticipation that even legendary Sunil Gavaskar has been eagerly looking forward to the contest as stated in one of his columns for Sunday mid-day in as early as May. “South Africa is the final frontier, the only top country remaining that India haven’t beaten in a Test series there. If India do that then they will truly have had a year to cherish and remember, starting with the win in Australia and culminating with another series win in South Africa,” he wrote.

This Team India that take pride winning overseas would look to make amends for its poor SA record. Vice-captain KL Rahul felt the failures on past SA tours is the key motivating factor this time. “It’s a huge series. As a team, we’ve always taken overseas series as a challenge. A lot has been said and written about India not winning series overseas, which we’ve worked really hard towards. We’ve won series in England and Australia, which gives us a lot of confidence.”

‘First Test crucial’

“We haven’t won a series in South Africa, so that gives us the extra motivation to go out there and try and learn from the mistakes from the past tours. The discussion so far has only been about the first Test. We are not thinking too far ahead. The first Test of the series is the most important and all our focus has been to try and do well in the first game,” said Rahul during a virtual conference from Centurion on Friday.

Will Rahane be retained? 

The last time India toured SA in 2017-18, the visitors lost the first two Tests before registering a memorable 63-run win at Johannesburg, where Ajinkya Rahane hit a crucial 48 in the second innings in his comeback Test after being dropped for the first two. 

This time around, Rahane is under tremendous pressure to retain his place in the XI after averaging just 19.57 in 12 Tests this year. His poor form has forced the selectors to take away the vice-captain’s post from him. Rahane’s last hundred came in the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 2020. Only time will tell whether the big occasion will bring the best out of him.

However, Rahul admitted it will be a tricky call with Shreyas Iyer and Hanuma Vihari fighting for the No.5 spot. “It is a very very difficult decision. Ajinkya has played crucial knocks for India including the one in Melbourne or at Lord’s recently. He has been a key player for us. Shreyas has taken his chances. Hanuma has also done the same for us. We will have a chat about that today or tomorrow,” Rahul said.

No. of runs KL Rahul has scored in two Tests during 2017-18 SA tour

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