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India’s KL Rahul will not sleep easy despite epic innings against England

The Guardian logo The Guardian 19-12-2016 Ali Martin at the MA Chidambaram Stadium

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The story goes that when KL Rahul was coming through the ranks of his Ranji Trophy side, Karnataka, he had a curious habit of playing out innings while he slept, with room-mates for away games startled in night as he called for quick singles or celebrated centuries while making an almighty racket in the process.

Following the third day against England in Chennai, when India’s opener became just the ninth batsman in the history of Test cricket to fall on 199, you fancy the shot that resulted in his demise will be another such moment to be played out in the land of nod.

Having swept Adil Rashid for four late in the evening session to get within in a single of a maiden double-century, the wide looping leg-break that followed was surely his moment. The eyes lit up. He went to swat it through square. He connected. The crowd roared. Virat Kohli and his players moved to celebrate in the pavilion.

Full scorecard: India vs England, 5th Test

But no. A touch of extra turn from an otherwise innocuous delivery meant the shot had actually been duffed. Jos Buttler gobbled up the simplest of catches at cover and while it gave England a rare moment of joy on their latest day of toil, around them the Chepauk Stadium was stunned into silence.

Rahul dropped his bat and sunk to his knees with head in hands, before eventually peeling himself from the crease for a shoulder-slunk trudge back to the pavilion.

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In one of those curious moments that seemingly only cricket can throw up, this talented 24-year-old – one who has battled with injury this year – was left with a sense of failure where, in theory, only satisfaction should have been felt.

After all, this innings was a classic subcontinental epic, having been rocksteady for 311 balls and seven and a half hours in the middle, where he milked the spinners – occasionally thumping them over their heads – and, while he took one blow to the ribs off Jake Ball, dealt with everything the seamers had to offer with relative ease.

When he appeared to speak after stumps, with India sitting ominously just 86 runs behind with six wickets in hand, there was still only one thing truly on his mind for all the attempts to show his delight at a fourth Test century.

“Well it’s been a good day – until I got out,” Rahul said. “I was looking to play positively, everything was going my way, I was hitting the ball in the middle and the chances that I took came off. Everything was looking good – but the pressure of getting a double hundred got to me.

“It was just … I was just so excited about that one run I forgot to take my time. I felt I rushed into the shot. It’s more disappointing to get out to a ball like that, it hurts even more.

“I have never been somebody who has chased landmarks but getting a 200 will always be a proud moment for a batsman and I’m gutted that I missed out.

“When I got back to the dressing room I was just shut off. I couldn’t hear what was being said. There were a lot of boys who came up to me and said something but I was just disappointed. I have to be just happy with the way I batted.”

He should be. While Rahul has joined the 199 club, and with it Steve Smith, Ian Bell, Younis Khan and Steve Waugh, this was the kind of batting display that can break a touring attack and, in this particular instance, could now turn a Test seemingly destined for a draw into a nervous second innings for the visiting batsmen.

Once again in this series, albeit on the flattest pitch to date, England’s spinners struggled for any true impact while the seamers, for all their willingness, found themselves unable to muster anything resembling lateral movement; the SG ball, unlike the Kookaburra used in Bangladesh, has not taken for reverse.

The mood was summed up after stumps by their all-rounder Ben Stokes, who when asked what they could get out of a chastening day replied: “A bit of sunburn, maybe. We tried a lot but sometimes you’ve got to hold your hands up say they played really, really. Maybe we didn’t get the rewards we deserved.”

In that regard, both they and Rahul will feel they have something in common.

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