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Time to look beyond Pujara and Rahane?

While the Indian team seems to be finally settling in on an opening combination which gives them solidarity at the top of the order, the dismal run of form of numbers 3, 4 and 5 continue to bother the team and put extra pressure on the lower order and the tail to get them to respectable totals.

Since the start of 2020, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane have averaged 27.44 in 13 test matches with just one century among them. The only team to do worse than this is the West Indies, with an average of 27.06.

The age of 30 to 34 is usually the period when batsmen are at their prime. They know their game better than they ever have and have enough experience to fall back upon and find a way out of troubled waters. A classic example of the same was Michael Hussey from Australia. He played all 79 of his tests after turning 30 and ended up with an average of over 50 in his career.

Given the significant amount of success that Kohli has achieved as a batsman at the international level and across formats, any team would give him that extra bit of time to rediscover his mojo. Whether the same long rope can be given to the other two is a question that the team management and the selectors need to answer sooner rather than later.

Cheteshwar Pujara has been the rock of the team since he made the number three spot his own. Time and again he has quashed questions about his scoring rate with sincere grit and determination. The numbers since the start of 2018 though, don’t look that great, even though he did have a pretty decent 2019. Apart from that, his average in the last 4 years (2021 included) has dropped down to 34.47 as opposed to his overall average of 45.59 (which was close to 50 not so long ago). His average in the 2020 and 2021 has been 20.38 and 27.79, respectively.

Cheteshwar Pujara

Cheteshwar Pujara
©Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

Cheteshwar Pujara

Year

Mt.

Inns.

NO

Runs

BF

Avg.

SR

100s

50s

2018

13

23

1

837

2176

38.05

38.47

3

4

2019

8

11

0

507

984

46.09

51.52

1

4

2020

4

8

0

163

593

20.38

27.49

0

1

2021

9

15

1

389

1204

27.79

32.31

0

4

Total

34

57

2

1896

4957

34.47

38.25

4

13

 

Lack of balance in his stride, uncertain feet movement, and an angled bat at times has seen Pujara getting out to deliveries he would otherwise safely negotiate during his prime. Even though he has managed to face a significant number of deliveries, the big score has eluded him with his last hundred dating back to 2019.

Ajinkya Rahane on the other hand has had the knack of standing up and delivering when the team has needed him to. He led the team admirably to an unexpected series win against Australia in the Border-Gavaskar trophy, which included a memorable hundred at Melbourne. He has done very little since then. His eagerness to get off the mark, his tentativeness to prod at deliveries in a quest to look for runs has backfired and has resulted in scores of 27*, 22, 4, 37, 24, 1, 0, 67, 10, 7, 27, 49, 15, 5, 1. That’s a lot of starts without materializing into a big one. Not to mention, he has run himself out twice in his last 17 innings whereas he had never run himself out in his first 111 innings of his career.

Similar to Pujara, Rahane’s average in the last five years is down to 35.54 as opposed to his overall average of 40.46 (which used to be in the late 40’s). Except for a fantastic 2019 where he averaged 71.33, he hasn’t average 40 in any of the last five years.

 

 India's Ajinkya Rahane

India's Ajinkya Rahane
©Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

 

Ajinkya Rahane

Year

Mt.

Inns.

NO

Runs

BF

Avg.

SR

100s

50s

2017

11

18

2

554

1084

34.63

51.11

1

3

2018

12

21

0

644

1462

30.67

44.05

0

5

2019

8

11

2

642

1285

71.33

49.96

2

5

2020

4

8

1

272

642

38.86

42.37

1

0

2021

9

14

0

269

630

19.21

42.70

0

1

Total

44

72

5

2381

5103

35.54

46.66

4

14

 

For a country, which is blessed with a wealth of talent, it only makes sense to give new players a chance when the tried and tested ones don’t come up with results. In this case, this reliable duo has gone long enough without showing any signs of a return to form.

Even the current BCCI President and former captain Sourav Ganguly was dropped from the team at a similar age owing to a run of poor form. He had the determination to go back to domestic cricket, rediscover his touch and make a successful international return. Playing just one format always puts that extra bit of pressure on Rahane and Pujara as their opportunities to impress are limited to 8 or 9 matches a year. A break from the constant scrutiny might help free up their minds and make them enjoy their batting once again.

With Kohli’s form is also a matter of concern (average of 24.18 in the last 13 tests), it is understandable that a captain will find it difficult to drop a player when his own performances are at the same underwhelming levels. Having said that, the team’s success comes before individual success. The need of the hour is to give the bench strength in Hanuma Vihari or even Suryakumar Yadav a chance to make their mark. There is also a possibility of giving reserve opener Mayank Agarwal a go in one of these two slots.

With one innings left in the Lord’s Test, both of them have a chance to silence critics with a big score. If not, the pressure is surely going to be on the selectors to make changes for the third Test.

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