The form of KL Rahul

Form is a many splendid thing.

Greg Chappell’s horror run changed the way I look at things, yet I was a baby when it happened.

My grandfather claimed to have seen Bradman make a duck. Our family was brought up on stories of sporting legends, international and local. The language of my childhood was sport. In my early 20s, was the first time I stopped playing a lot of it. Tennis, golf, basketball and then eventually cricket went away. It could be a coincidence that I had a low point in my life then as well.

My struggle was probably obvious, which is why while helping my grandfather with things in his garage, he went into an unprompted speech on Greg Chappell as a clear life lesson.

Greg Chappell was smoother than a slippery dip covered in baby oil. He made the runs of a great batsman but did it like the bloke who always makes stylish 30s before getting out. He is one of the greatest batsmen Australia has ever produced. Until Ponting, all prospects were compared - unfavourably - to him.

But he also made four straight ducks once.

This was newsworthy for any player, but to a great of the game, this was a huge deal. Chappell made a duck in the second innings of a Test against Pakistan after rolling Australia for 152 following on. He followed that up with a duck against Pakistan in an ODI when he came in late.

A few days later, Michael Holding got him for a golden duck in another ODI. Australia had fallen to 30/3, so again he wasn’t on his own. Next Test Holding got him for a duck first ball again. They were 26/4 this time. He was handy this Michael Holding, wonder what he’s up to now. In the second innings, Joel Garner - also quite a decent bowler, took him for 6. Yay, at least it wasn’t a duck. In the next Test, Chappell made 12 before Colin Croft got him for a golden duck again.

This is against two teams, across that many formats as well, and G Chappell - undisputed great of the game -  went 0, 0, 0, 0, 6, 12, and 0.

This is what he said about it:

My grandfather took me through this story, misremembering the facts but staying true to the point. Not that I hadn’t heard it before. My dad - who was also my coach - had used it for years when a kid played a lousy game. But my grandfather remembered it his own way, “Sometimes you’re batting well, but you still get out. So just keep working hard; it turns around.”

When I think about form, it’s my grandfather’s take on Chappell’s quote and something Courtney Walsh wore on a t-shirt, ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’. And when I was young, I always thought that was pretty stupid. Of course form is important; we talk about it all the time. It’s why people get picked or omitted from cricket teams. But now I think there is a lot more to Walsh’s attire.

KL Rahul has two sets of numbers of recent times. 14, 0, 0, 1, 0, and 30. Is the group that got everyone mad. These show that he was in such poor form that he should not have been chosen for the ODIs that followed. Although those numbers I quoted are from T20Is, a different format.

But can you drop someone for bad form in one format if he struggles in another? Don’t answer that because I fundamentally don’t care that much. Here is my real question, is form even really a thing?

I know how much I have annoyed your uncle just by saying that. But we say things like form and momentum as catchalls for far more confusing things that we often can’t explain.

But once we drill down, is form time or match based. So if I’ve played six games this month, the first three I made 50 and the last three I made ducks. Am I now out of form? In this month I made runs. What if six months ago I played three tests and didn’t take a wicket, and now I’ve played two more and failed. Is that the same form. And does everything that happened at the lower level not count as form too.

The concept itself is really made up to explain away any dip or peak of performance. But all athletes have those; they’re normal. And what we dismiss in one word is on occasion one specific reason, or more often a combination of a few different parts.

Form isn’t temporary; it’s multi-dimensional.


This is the most used and challenging to fix or quantify. No matter what your job is, you’ll know you go through times when it’s easier or harder. So when you do it wrong a few times, it means you hesitate, second guess, and make it all worse.

The thing is, when you miss a couple of sales conversions, tens of thousands of people don’t notice. For a professional athlete being bad at their job is a public conversation.

This is the hardest to diagnose and rectify. A player low on confidence usually just needs some runs or wickets to come around, but they can’t get them because they’re not playing their best. So confidence comes from playing well, but telling a player to do better is like screaming relax at someone with anxiety.

So confidence mostly comes in retrospect. It makes the entire thing such a stupid cycle. But many form issues are simply based on confidence. Professional athletes need to feel a little invincible to do their jobs. Players with doubts really struggle in an elite environment. So often they might get into bad form for a perfectly normal reason. One ball hits a stone, a mate runs them out, or they get caught on a tricky track. But then the internal and external pressure comes to them, and it’s no longer a case of some normal occurrences coming together; now it’s part of a narrative.

Can they do what they do? Are they a fraud? Are they finally being found out? Do you know how bulletproof you need to be to survive professional sport. They’re surrounded by guys who got done over by one bad selector or one good batting line up, it’s cutthroat, and once you open the window a slither, the doubt comes barging through.

Here is the thing though, most athletes are used to failing. They do it all the time. To get onto your streaming app, they failed as a junior, failed as a prospect, failed domestically, and then probably failed internationally. They are used to making runs, and then not. It’s often us as fans who lost confidence well before any athlete does.


There are times when just a bunch of things go against you. After his suspension for Sandpapergate, David Warner went off to the Global T20 in Canada and then headed to the CPL afterwards.

In his first 11 innings across the two, he averaged 12.3. Unless you believe in hexes or bad juju, Warner was in poor form. But in this run, many things happened against him, like run outs, two golden ducks, freak inside edges, and horrendous decisions that would have been overturned with DRS.

But I had a unique perspective on this because I was working with St Lucia and saw all of Warner’s net sessions. And I’ve also covered his entire career as a journalist. This poor run wasn’t bad form, he may not have been at his best, but he wasn’t in averaging 12 form.

We don’t like to admit how much luck is involved in this, because as sports fans we like to believe the best team always wins. That good players can overcome bad luck. And that every run and wicket is earned.

One of my favourite examples of this was Chris Woakes’ early Test career. He made his debut in a dead rubber and then played against India on some of the flattest wickets of all time. Before finally getting to South Africa, and was probably hoping to cash in on their helpful pitches. And instead, Jonny Bairstow and England kept dropping catches off him. Woakes averaged 63 by the end of South Africa, it’s been 26 since.

Had it not been for his batting, Woakes might have disappeared forever with this kind of record. Yet, since then, he hasn’t had to play on English pitches as flat as those first ones, and now he creates so many chances that a handful of drops don’t affect him the same way.

Find any player with a small number of matches, and they’ll be able to take you through all the unlucky things that cost them a career.


Ed Cowan batted horrendously against one Indian and brilliantly against the rest of the 1.3 billion Indians. Cowan V Ashwin - 16.7. Cowan V Rest of India - 50. If you’re a left-hander playing against R Ashwin, you are not going to make any runs. Not many right handlers do well, but that is possible. However, if you are going up against Ashwin as a southpaw, it’s already over, and you don’t know it yet.

In his career, Cowan played eight Tests against India. Ashwin took him 7 times. Cowan played 18 Tests, and over a third of them had Ashwin. I wonder how often poor form is just a bad matchup, and we haven’t noticed it.

This isn’t a cricket thing, you could be the best overall player at Wimbledon, but if you go up against a player or style you can’t handle in an early round, you’re out. The same for heavyweights in boxing. The difference in cricket is that in these bilateral series, you can play against the same bowler or batsman repeatedly.

And it only happens at the international level. This is one of the biggest struggles for younger players when they first arrive in long Test or ODI series. It’s more than possible to be seeing the ball well, feeling confident, and do not know how to play a bowler.


Fast bowlers drill holes in their toenails to relieve tension (Do not google this). Batsmen who play a lot of long innings often have problems with their backs. Keepers can carry a broken finger through a summer. And spin bowlers sometimes piss on their own fingers to harden their skin and callouses.

Athletes play through these things all the time. They are pushing their bodies to perform at their best, which means often there is a niggle, or far worse they have to deal with. And those kinds of injuries will rarely see them out of the team. They just play through it.

So that is why a batsman, after years of playing the short ball well will suddenly struggle to get out the way, because their back is stiff, they can’t duck or weave, and they become a target.

Jump shooters in basketball struggle if there is a problem with their arm. But they keep playing as they can offer other things to their team. This is common with cricketers. I know a batsman who claimed a knee injury made him struggle with his bat flow, a spinner who went for a swim in the ocean and his callous ripped open, and many bowlers who just have that small niggle they could bowl through but never feel right for.

These things often end with players looking like they’re in a slump, but they just need whatever is wrong with their body to become more manageable.


There are plenty of world-beating golfers who struggle on links courses and tennis players who can master one or two surfaces only. In cricket, we make all that so much more challenging. You can play a Test series in the West Indies where you play one match at Guyana gluepot and follow it up with screamin’ St Lucia wicket.

Let’s say a bowler has a weakness on slower pitches. They might actually do better than they usually do on them, outperform their record on those kinds of tracks, but still be seen as out of form.

Let’s take two players with incredible records, Stuart Broad and Mahela Jayawardene. In Asia, Broad averages 38, and chances are that won’t ever improve. His style of bowling has never worked there. And Jayawardene averages 56 in Asia, but 36 everywhere else. Jayawardene played 149 Tests, and 109 of them were in Asia. But what if early on in his career he played two or three tours in a row outside of Asia. He would have struggled, the only non-Asian country he averages over 40 is the West Indies, and that’s only 42. Stuart Broad probably would have got more fair treatment being a seamer in Asia, but if his first few tours were there, his figures would be so poor that it would take him a lot longer to win people over.

Now you may think, yeah, these are great players for their countries; they would have been kept around. But what about the player who is not a great, the above average performer who gets stuck on a few pitches that don’t suit, and is dropped through form. Many of them never come back.


Marnus Labuchagne changed his batting technique when he turned up at the Glamorgan nets in 2019, and coach Matthew Maynard said, ‘What the fuck are you doing with your feet.” Up until that point, Labuschagne was averaging 32 in first class cricket. Yet the talent was so obvious that Australia had already chosen him. The technical change meant he could play the ball easier to the leg side, and his bat would come straighter. From that moment on he has averaged 65. In Tests that number has been 72.

So, that is what a technical change can do to “form”.

But even Labuchagne says it was more than just a technique tweak. He also played more first class cricket than usual, changed his mindset and probably matured a little bit. The other thing about technical changes is that players are usually fairly vague with them unless they work. And they can’t always tell you when the techniques have degraded.

But when we talk about form, the real dips are likely found here. Something in the way they used to be successful has broken, or everyone has worked them out.

Now this can lead to confidence, loss, and a string of low scores. But we have seen players make minor changes and spring back just as quick. And we’ve seen others just never unlock it. Although I’d say the worst are the ones who struggle, get dropped, fix it, but are seen as damaged goods.

The way athletes play the sport evolves. Their bodies change, the game moves on, they find new coaching methods, when they have problems, they adapt to cover them. If you started playing Test cricket in 2000, you could be pretty sure that by coming down the wicket to a spinner, you’d almost never be out LBW. If you were facing a pace bowler and you padded up, an umpire might trigger you at any moment. Ten years later those two had switched around.

Players change all the time; it’s just often no one notices until it affects their scores.

If you were watching India’s tour of Australia, early on you may remember Joe Burns’ batting. In the first innings at Adelaide, he made eight despite batting for an hour and a half. He made a 51* in Australia’s low chase the next innings, but still looked a bit ropey. He followed that up with a duck and perhaps the most painful four runs I have ever seen. Then he was dropped.

But the Burns story is actually far more interesting. At the end of the 19/20 Shield season, he made 135 and 93 in his last two matches. The 135 almost got Queensland home on a huge chase where he outscored his nearest teammate, extras, by over 100 runs. He was clearly batting well as lockdown came. Then he fails the first match after lockdown, plays an uncharacteristically slow 29 from two-and-a-half hours. And that is the only innings he faces over 50 balls until the gimme knock in Australia’s second innings at Adelaide.

And that is part of the problem here. It is genuinely hard to tell how out of form Burns was at times because he was dismissed so quick. He played four warm-up matches against India and in total faced 39 balls. If you only saw batsmen face their first 15 balls all the time, most of them would look poor.

But if you look at his numbers, there was always a massive hole in his game for length balls. In Tests, he has averaged 20 when the ball is there, and before these matches against India, it was 22. Teams, Shield sides as well, all honed in on this, and Burns couldn’t get out the way of it.

Burns had two months off after the Tests; his first knock back was 171 in a total of 275 where only Labuschagne passed 25.

So was it form, or just a technical tweak.

This all brings us back to KL Rahul.

So at the start of this, we talked about KL Rahul’s two sets of numbers. I only showed you his 14, 0, 0, 1, 0, and 30 from his last six T20s. The ones I didn’t show were 5, 76, 12, 112, 4, and 88*. That was his last six ODI innings coming into this series.

The problem with those ODI numbers was that they were spread over different parts of the world, and were even pre and post-pandemic. And most notably, they weren’t five minutes ago, meaning our goldfish nature couldn’t quite handle them.

When KL Rahul turned up to play in the T20s against England, he had not played a professional match since making a duck in Australia three months earlier. Instead, he had been running drinks over a couple of Test series in various bubbles. And then found himself back in the middle. He’s hardly the only player to find himself in this situation, and many have done well.

But Rahul didn’t.

When he made runs in the ODIs it was in a completely different position, when the tension was out of the game, and a clear role because of the way the game was going. There were no swinging new balls for a start.

With batsmen, we often look for pronounced problems. Their minds are shot, technically weak, can’t play the moving ball, and spinners have them worked out when we see many low scores. But think about something as simple as a toss of a coin. If I asked you to toss a coin 10 times, you’d be a fair chance of getting five heads and five tails. You might get all five heads in a row, and you probably wouldn’t stop to check if it was weighted right. You’d just believe that it would eventually even out.

Sachin Tendulkar did not make runs every innings, nor Bradman. Performances vary for all players.

Before KL Rahul played four straight low scoring innings in T20, he made double figures - one was a triple - 28 consecutive times in his T20 career. That is the longest run of double-figure T20 scores ever, the next best is 22. I asked a bunch of analysts about this, one guessed it would be a one in 10000 chance. Another - Amol Desai - worked it out for a top-four T20 batter that they are a 0.002% chance of happening.

KL Rahul did all of it with a strike rate of 135.  While travelling to four different countries, playing in lower-level domestic through to internationals and IPL over a period of 18 months.  And no one even talked about it. More people noticed that his T20 strike rate had fallen. They were overlooked because they were mostly double figures. We tend to notice the single and triple ones more.

So that means that for his last 34 T20 innings, he only failed to score in double figures four times, and it was all in a row. His last four innings across ODI have all been double figures again, well, except for one, that was a triple.

Form is temporary; misunderstanding form is permanent.