High Time for Rahane and Pujara To Step Up
India-England Test Series
There is only a week remaining before the all important five match Test series between India and England kicks off. The series is well set up for a cracking contest as the two teams share the spoils at present with the T20I series victory going to the visitors and the ODI series to the hosts.
More than the contest between the two teams, everyone will keep a keen watch on Virat Kohli's performance in the series keeping in mind his horrendous tour of 2014. How he is going to turn up against the red cherry in English conditions this time is a topic that is going to be discussed widely in the coming time ahead.
However, there are two other players for whom this series is equally important considering their poor run of form in recent times. Those two players are none but India’s middle order stalwarts Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara.
Both of them had a forgettable tour of South Africa back in February this year. Rahane already had a poor home series against Sri Lanka prior to the series in the rainbow nation in which he accumulated just 27 runs in five innings at 5.40. He continued that poor patch against South Africa with returns of 67 runs in 3 innings at 22.33. Although, his innings of 48 at Johannesburg showed signs of his return to form, that was still a far cry from what Rahane is capable of. He struggled to score big even after four months against Afghanistan, a team playing their first Test match ever. 10 runs off 45 deliveries was all he could manage during his scratchy outing.
Pujara’s start to 2018 has been similar to that of Rahane. It has been quite contrasting to the way the year 2017 went for him. He amassed 1140 runs last year at an average of 67.05 with four 100s and five 50s to his name. However, he is averaging just 19.28 after four Test matches this year. He returned with just a lone fifty from the rainbow nation with an accumulation of exactly 100 runs from six innings at an average of 16.67. And 35 runs was what he managed in the historic Test against Afghanistan.
Moreover, he has followed that up with a horrendous county stint in which he amassed just 172 runs in 6 matches with 41 being is highest return. Although he did quite well in the List A matches, that is hardly going to improve his performance against the red cherry.
It's true that almost every player experiences bad patches of form in the span of his career. And it just might be the case with the two. However, unlike Kohli or any other player, Rahane and Pujara are not considered suitable matches for the other two formats. They are only recognized as Test players. So, an extended run of bad form is all it may need to lead to their ouster from the Indian squad reckoning completely. Many other players are waiting on the fringes to grab the opportunity and hence it sums up how easy it is for them to get lost in the vast sea of discarded players, just because of extended periods of bad form.
The problem for Rahane seems to be quite mental than being any in his technical aspect of the game. Whenever he comes out to bat, there is a sense of uncertainty in his body language. As if he has lost confidence in himself. He used to be so free flowing and such a joy to watch. But now he looks so rigid. He should take confidence from how he performed the last time India toured England. His century at Lord’s back in 2014 is one worth remembering and rewinding again and again. The twin fifties at Southampton were no less classy and showed the fire in his belly to fight despite India losing the match. Rahane should remember those times and produce something magical once again.
On the other hand, a number of flaws have come to the fore in the technical aspect of Pujara’s game. Firstly, he keeps a huge gap between bat and pad while playing the incoming deliveries. Those result in his dismissals more often than not. Secondly, he has a tendency to poke at the swinging length deliveries in the corridor of uncertainty from the back-foot. That's the reason we see him getting caught behind or in the slips most of the times. So, he needs to sort theses things out if he wants to succeed in this series.
The only advantage Pujara has going into the series is that he has already gone through a poor county stint and is well aware of the conditions. What needs to be done and what not to. So, he should use his experience to good effect.
Moreover, the way conditions are now in England, weather is mostly warm and pitches are dry. So, it should facilitate the Indian batting line up and ease the pressure off the two a bit as pace won't play a crucial part if conditions remain so. Still they have to be prepared to make a statement in this series, thus reminding people of the class they belong to as batsmen.