SANDIPAN BANERJEE | 7 AUGUST, 2018
Should India play Cheteshwar Pujara at Lords’?
Four more matches to go
LONDON: So, the overseas failure continues for this new generation Indian team…
They couldn’t chase down 208 in the fourth innings of the Cape Town Test earlier this year. Now, at Edgbaston, against lesser quality bowling attack even 194 was beyond their reach on a Day 4 track.
In the series-opener last week, India scored 436 runs in both innings and skipper Virat Kohli got 200 (149 and 51) of those, which means rest of the batting line-up scored just 236 runs in both innings. Hence, it is not surprising that India will begin the second Test, being 0-1 down in the five-match series.
Now, the question is, should India make a change in their batting line-up, especially in the top order?
Seems quite likely.
At Edgbaston, India decided to drop their Test specialist No. 3 Cheteshwar Pujara based on his recent poor form in County cricket. His position was taken by KL Rahul and scored 4 and 13 in both innings. Interestingly, the team management kept faith in opener Shikhar Dhawan, who bagged a pair in the only warm-up game Indians played before the Test series.
The southpaw did not justify his selection and got just 26 and 13 in respective innings. Even Dhawan’s opening partner Murli Vijay, who averaged above 40 with bat in India’s last touring cycle (South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand) had disappointing start of the series with scores of 20 and 6.
Hence, going into the Lord’s Test, it is crystal clear that India need to plug this hole in the top order. And former players like Sunil Gavaskar, Michael Holding and Virender Sehwag have already voiced in favour of the inclusion of Pujara, who has been India’s long-trusted warrior in white clothing.
"One thing I would like to see India do is … find a way to get Pujara into this team," Holding told Sky Sports. "I do not understand how they are so reluctant to play Pujara. He's too good a player [to sit out].
"If Kohli had no form, would they leave him out? I'm not saying Pujara is as good as Kohli because Kohli is way above everyone else. But when you have (for example) a Rahul Dravid, a VVS Laxman or a Sourav Ganguly who is not in excellent form, do you leave them out? No,” further argued the West Indian legend.
Well, with Pujara’s potential to handle the swinging duke ball, one must believe Indian top order would get a lot of solidity with his inclusion. Ideally, with the new ball, the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad would be looking to attack Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, two of the stalwarts in the Indian batting line-up. And if the visitor once against go into the Test with a vulnerable top-three, this can very well be the scenario.
Hence, India need Pujara’s solidity at No. 3. And to accommodate him in the XI, someone like Dhawan or Rahul should make way.
However, according to Holding, all-rounder Hardik Pandya, who got 22 and 31 in the first Test and bowled 10 wicketless overs, should be replaced with Pujara.
"Pandya, it seems as if he's the golden boy in this team. Everyone thinks he's going to be the next Kapil Dev. He hasn't shown that yet,” Holding mentioned.
"Why not pick a batsman [instead]? Pandya got a few runs in the second innings but is he a better batsman than Pujara? I don't think so, and you don’t need him as a bowler in my eyes."
Nevertheless, as per the information the author has received, the team management is not in favour of dropping Pandya. Instead, Rahul is the most likely person to miss out, if the think-tank decides to include Pujara.
However, the conditions at Lord’s are expected to be much drier than Birmingham due to the recent heatwave in London. There will be less sideways movement on the pitch, compared to what we have experienced at Edgbaston. Hence, expect Indian batting to put up a much better show here.
With four more matches to go, India should not press the panic button yet. But in order to have a realistic chance of winning the series, they have to ensure that they do not lose at the second Test, which starts from next Thursday (August 9) at the ‘Home of Cricket’.
(Cover Photograph Hindustam Times)