KL Rahul made the last of his five Test hundreds at The Oval in September 2018. He had managed just 150 runs in nine innings on that tour prior to that innings, and his position was in doubt. But he changed things around with an attractive 149 on the final day as he and Rishabh Pant nearly pulled off a coup before falling short. Back in England, almost two years since he last played a Test, Rahul is more "focused and determined" and is less worried about being dropped.
"When I got dropped in 2018, I had to go back and discuss with coaches, watched a lot of videos to see where I was faltering and try to correct that," he told BCCI.tv. "I'm happy, time off from Test cricket (has helped). Like they say, failure makes you strong, makes you more focused and determined about the game. It's no different for me. I'm looking forward to the opportunities, trying to stay a lot calmer and more disciplined."
Rahul is currently a back-up middle-order batter - and not an opener like in 2018 - in the Test squad, and while he isn't guaranteed a spot in the first XI for the series opener at Trent Bridge starting on August 4, he could be in the mix should Ajinkya Rahane not recover in time from a hamstring niggle.
That innings at The Oval, Rahul pointed out, was down to playing with a sense of freedom. "I remember The Oval being the best batting pitch we got in the whole series," he said. "At the back of my mind, I also knew it was the last game of the series and I hadn't done well in the series. So, it was only realistic that I would have probably not gotten a chance in the next series.
"I've made mistakes, I've learnt from them. I get stronger. This is a good opportunity again, hopefully fingers crossed I can do the job for the team"
"I wanted to make it count, enjoy my batting. I had a sense of freedom in my head. I thought this may be my last opportunity to let me go and enjoy my game. Me and Rishabh, had we battled for an hour more, we could have won the game. That would have been historic, been the icing on the cake. But I'll still hold Oval very close (to my heart)."
Rahul has only featured in two first-class games in the last 18 months, but his century in India's lone tour game against a County Select XI last week has again raised hopes of a Test comeback. His last Test was in the West Indies in August-September 2019, in the series that kicked off India's World Test Championship campaign. Since then, while his white-ball credentials have skyrocketed, his red-ball stocks have taken a hit.
A hand injury led to him missing parts of the Australia tour in December-January, and the England series at home. In May, during the IPL, he had to have surgery for appendicitis. Now, on his second Test tour to England, Rahul felt he was more aware of his game.
"It's always good to get runs in the white kit," he said of his century last week. "It's been a while since I'd played a red-ball game, so it was very nice to be out there, and score runs. It's important to stay patient and wait for my turn. I've been working on my game. It's good to get some time in the middle and score some runs.
"I've always been confident. I've never really worried about confidence. It's my self-belief that has gotten me so far, but it's about maintaining a calm head, learning from your mistakes. I'm just enjoying my game. I've made mistakes, I've learnt from them. I get stronger. Like I said this is a good opportunity again, hopefully fingers crossed I can do the job for the team."
During that warm-up game in Durham, Rahul had the additional responsibility of keeping wicket, as Pant and Wriddhiman Saha were unavailable because of Covid-19 protocols. It's not new to him, it's part of his job profile in short-format cricket anyway.
"It's a good opportunity to test my body and wicketkeeping skills," he said. "The added responsibility made me really sore (laughs) but apart from that, it was good time out and it gives me good opportunity to stay in the game. Especially when it is a practice game, sometimes it can feel longer. But when you're wicketkeeping, you need to stay focused and you're in the game all the time. So, I quite enjoyed it."