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India vs England Test: Pujara’s drop, senseless or rational?

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The great accusation against Sachin Tendulkar was that he overshadowed Dravid’s achievements. But whose fault was that- Dravid’s or Sachin’s?
In a similar vein, just when Pujara did the unthinkable- drawing reactions from people despite not featuring in the team- along came King Kohli with an epic Test hundred.
It’s one of those cases where a celeb about to give an autograph has to make way for a star who divides everyone’s attention.

So whose fault is it- Pujara’s or Kohli’s?

Cheteswar Pujara
Pujara will understand the cruel nature of international cricket (Image: Deccan Chronicle)

Probably, Test Crickets’.
Probably the blame goes to the changing vagaries of the game.
In an age where Test cricket has fought back as brilliantly amid the cult called T20s akin to spinners in an age favouring batsmen, perhaps cricket is reinforcing the classic rule.
Perform or Perish.
It’s the cricketing version of the famous rabble from the pre-independence era- do or die.
You’d rather be the former.
No one wants to die. On a serious note, euthanasia is still a moral debate.
Pujara’s career, should it now be called a casualty, is far from being on the ventilator.
For someone who’s close to 5000 Test runs, has 14 hundreds, including 3 double-hundreds and a bullish batting average over 50, it must be a strange sight to warm the bench.
Pujara is, after all, more than just a number 3 batsman.

Pujara is more than a Test specialist.

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Cheteswar Pujara
Pujara taking a catch at short-leg (Image: The Cricket Lounge)

He’s also a short-mid wicket fielder, a devoted partnership stitcher and more importantly, a marksman hungry for runs.
His malady, one that worked utterly against his favour was the culmination of two odious truths.
First that back in 2014, he scored merely 222 runs from 4 Tests and second, that his Yorkshire turnout was dry. What cannot escape his passionate backers is the that of all the Indian batsmen currently playing at Edgbaston, only Pujara had the rare privilege of playing in English conditions.
But to add insult to injury, it didn’t help that Pujara turned up with a single digit score, going just one better than a duck against Essex.
A freak failure that it may have been, that faltering was enough to make the sword hanging over his head, slice it.
In so doing, the man famously credited for being the ‘next Dravid’ found himself staring at the exit gates. Nothing can be as hard as not finding oneself on a Playing XI.

Spare a thought for those who make difficult calls.

Tasked with a difficult choice, they had to make a tough call (Image: Hindustan times)

But the somewhat perturbed fan who may still be scratching his head in private after joining hands in admiration for Kohli’s hundred would want to know whether that was the right move?
Earlier this year, dropping an ‘out of form’ Rahane against South Africa in favour of ‘an in form’ Rohit neither helped the Mumbai batsman nor his team.
But Kohli was hardly chastised.
Probably it didn’t help that the only opportunity that he got, Rahane wasn’t able to go better than 48 and 8 in the 3rd Test at South Africa.
We find Pujara in a similar situation.
The only opportunity that Pujara got to submit his candidature for Test selection got withered away in a faulty Essex outing.
The question remains at large.
Did the Saurashtra-batsman commit a sacrilege by failing to score in one practice game?
Moreover, his failure against England came 4 years ago.
Do the math and understand the folly of numbers.
The last that Pujara failed to dominate the proceedings was 1460 days ago.
There’s little sense, therefore, to contend with the fact that a sin- what else is it for an established Number.3 to fail overseas- committed half a decade ago is punished several years later.
For a second, if you were to leave all of this aside, you’d succumb at the curious case of Cheteshwar Pujara.
For a batsman who’s been dropped against England has actually scored his highest-individual Test score against the same unit.
For those of us who would’ve seen 2012’s 206 not out at Ahmedabad, above anything else, it was Pujara’s keenness to bat alongside tail-enders that earned him respect.
This would only grow manifold in the following years.
In 2017, Pujara struck in excess of 830 Test runs.

He’d go several better next year.

Cheteswar Pujara
Cheteswar Pujara had a good 2018 (Image: India.com)

In 2018, Pujara would strike 1140 plus runs. He’d strike 7 of his 14 hundreds starting 2016.
That just indicates the kind of menacing form he was in.
For a batsman who’s naturally hardwired to hit grounded strokes, abstain from interfering with deliveries outside off and one who’s known to toil hard for his runs- who knows how many he would’ve gathered in 2018?
What’s more?
The albatross hanging around his neck- that of having failed to read Anderson and Broad- would’ve gathered a sigh of relief knowing well that both English bowlers have aged 4 years than the last time.
Wouldn’t that have aided the batsman? But all of this is forecasting. Isn’t it?
In a game where emotions run high, the numbers serve as an equaliser. When Rahane was dropped, India lost heavily to South Africa. Fact.
When Pujara was dropped back in 2011-12 in Australia, India lost the series. Fact.
Does that tell us something?
Surely, Pujara is no magic potion.
Bring him in and you shall not lose.
No one’s suggesting that.
But probably a batsman of his calibre deserved a final chance to redeem himself. Did he not?
Importantly, where numbers stack up then his freshest appearances against England- during 2016-17 series- reveal in excess of 400 runs from 5 Tests at 50, including a century in India.
But in Pujara’s axing India have embraced a norm that may be continued, should its consistency be relied on for gathering results.
Surely, if he’s picked for the Second Test considering India lose the opener, then it would be demeaning for a batsman credited for being consistent.
It would expose India’s rather abrasive chop-and-change policy.
What’s more? Given how Dhawan perished cheaply and KL Rahul wasn’t able to last 2 overs- probably the former is 1 inning away from being discarded.

Should that be the case, there’s hope for Pujara.

To gain more experience of county cricket, Pujara played for a county side before the series

The combination then reads, Murali opening with KL, with Pujara one down.
But that should serve a strict notice to the right-hander that he’s sitting on a ticking clock. It’s imperative to strike rather than score.
In the 1990s, the Australian Cricket unravelled a philosophy that the remainder of the sporting public reviled. Get the runs or get the hell out.
As simple as that. No complications. Waugh stood by it, Ponting and Clarke furthered it.
Australia has ever since have enjoyed a strong bench-strength until appearing a clueless bunch as seen recently.
A constant rotation policy served their sport well.
The axe fell on giants like Mark Waugh and even Hayden. To this day, Glenn Maxwell isn’t a regular member of the side and one’s not sure where George Bailey is languishing?
But where rotation stands, Pujara doesn’t have the luxury of making a comeback in ODIs, forget T20s.
Pujara is Test cricket.
But that said, India hasn’t really mastered the rotation policy akin to an Australia- has it? Moreso, at 30, there’s more life in him now than what might be at 35, isn’t it?
Do India and Pujara still need each other?
Can India justify persisting with the likes of an equally faltering Rahane, an inexperienced Pandya or a fledgeling Dhawan minus Pujara?
Thankfully, we don’t face the predicament that the axed batsman does.

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