KL Rahul's head was falling over. The front foot was getting planted across. It seemed like he was trying to cover the outswing, based on the assumption that a large number of dismissals in England happen nicking behind. He positioned his body so he could leave lots of balls alone, and as a result he ended up playing down the wrong line occasionally, and became vulnerable to getting out lbw or bowled.
Once a pattern appears in an international batsman's dismissals, you expect him to address it, and Rahul did that with regard to his head and the positioning of his front foot ahead of the series against West Indies at home. We at Star Sports saw footage of him working with Sanjay Bangar to correct the issue, but it appeared that he was still so consumed with what was happening with his head and feet that he kept getting late on the ball. His two dismissals against West Indies reflected that, for he was either still on the move when the ball was released or failed to read the line completely.
Batting is at its best when your mind is focusing only on what the bowler is trying to do, because the moment you start thinking about your own game while standing in your stance, you can't focus enough on the release, and more importantly, your brain misses the cues that enable you to move and get the body in the right position.
While everyone who has played cricket at a competitive level goes through this kind of phase a few times in their career, in Rahul's case there's something else, which is a little more worrisome.
I've always rated him highly for his skills. He seems the perfect prototype of the modern-day batsman who has grown up with the influence of T20 cricket and has developed a game that is suited to all three formats. He is balanced at the crease, and his feet move just about enough for him to be stable while moving, yet without having him commit too early. Most importantly, he plays most of his attacking shots with a straight bat. Even when he goes aerial against a full ball from a fast bowler, he seldom plays a cross-batted shot. Some of the sixes he has hit over cover against some of the better bowlers is a perfect example of how aerial shots can actually be an extension of defensive strokes. Yes, he was a little guilty of faulty shot selection every now and then, but that's where you give a youngster the benefit of the doubt. He'll make a few mistakes, learn from them and be a better player in the end, you thought.
Except for the odd minor hiccup, it was working fine for Rahul. His initial success in Test cricket made him a viable option as an opener. He started slowly in T20 cricket but eventually found his groove there too.
But as his stature in T20 cricket grew, his Test returns started diminishing. When he was averaging in the 40s in Tests, his T20 strike rate was in the early 120s. But after his T20 strike rate went up to the 150s, his Test average has plummeted to the mid-20s.
There's a possibility that there's no correlation between the two but the manner of some of his dismissals in Tests does raise the suspicion that they might be connected. The quick-fire innings he played in Adelaide was extremely handy for India, but the manner of his dismissal there might have cost him a place in the playing XI for the remainder of the series. Yes, he did play and fail in Perth too, but as an opener you can only fret so much about the dismissals that come about before you're set. You're likely to get good balls early on. So it's imperative to cash in when you get a start.
Failure to do so will land you in trouble sooner than you think, and I can vouch for that from personal experience. That second innings in Adelaide was a wonderful opportunity, where he had blunted the new ball with some attacking and decisive shot-making, but in the end he played one shot too many and lost his wicket.
The challenge that Rahul is facing, and it is true for a lot of modern batsmen, is to find the right balance and gears while moving between formats.
The nature of white-ball cricket is that it follows a pattern and you're almost always obliged to follow along as a batsman. Seldom do you get to switch gears of your own accord - for doing so could be detrimental to the team's cause. That's not the case in a Test match, where you are forced to find your own pace. A lot of modern batsmen find this challenging. Rohit Sharma playing the shot he played in the first innings of the first Test and Travis Head playing the shot that dismissed him in the second innings of the second Test are other examples of the same mindset.
Aakash Chopra is the author of three books, the latest of which is The Insider: Decoding the craft of cricket. @cricketaakash