Ever since India’s dismal showing in a World Test Championship (WTC) final, people have begun speculating about some major changes in the Test team in the coming days. During the post-match virtual presser, Indian skipper Virat Kohli suggested that the team need players with the right mindset, aiming a straight dig at Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane.
This is emotional as much as it is logical, but it’s also powerful. Heroes turn into zeroes in the blink of an eye. Reputations are forged and destroyed.
A batsman of Pujara’s niche skill set doesn’t tend to sit well in everyone’s hearts. Least of all when he hasn’t scored an international hundred in the last 30 months and has been struggling with depleting returns since the start of the year.
After all, Rahane and Pujara have been key components of the Indian middle order for a decade now.
Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, the tripod on which the other discipline hinges, have a task on their hands to reclaim their main-event status after going through the last 10 Test matches, four of them at home, with a solitary 100 between them.
Since his Melbourne masterpiece last December, Rahane has just one fifty in 13 innings, almost half the length of the entire WTC. Pujara, too, looks a shadow of his usual self, often falling into his own trap of preservation. A batsman who has built a reputation for digging in and constructing big knocks, Pujara has now become a player who does only the first of those jobs.
After a chastening defeat to New Zealand in such a show-piece event, a strong statement was expected. And the skipper didn’t disappoint-venting his displeasure at the way some of the seniors approached the game. Head coach Ravi Shastri too, didn’t mince his words when he pointed out the flaws in the mindset of a few players, after the batters threw away the match in a matter of 25 overs.
Indian cricket has often been guilty of acting on impulse, shuffling pieces around for the sake of it when responding to defeat and projecting a one-off loss as a crisis situation.
Moreover, the Indian team management is said to have sent a strong message to Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara after the two senior batsmen failed to live up the expectations against New Zealand.
While Pujara hasn’t been in the best of form since the last tour of Australia, Rahane’s has also struggled for consistency in the last few years. Rahane will have a huge responsibility on his shoulders, having previously done well in England.
With India in desperate need of their senior pros to stand up and take them to a position of safety on Day 6 at Rose Bowl, the duo failed to provide the goods, succumbing to a pair of frustrating dismissals.
Rahane, a player that faces a lot of question marks for his consistency, once again left much to be desired for India’s worried cricket fans as he got out painfully edging the ball down the leg side off Trent Boult.
However, despite their sub-par recent performances, the duo still hold key for India’s chances in a Test series against England. Rahane, too, plays the thankless role of No.5, where often the flow of the innings is already laid out.
Not long ago, Pujara was the epitome of courage in Australia, absorbing blow after blow on the final day of a riveting series to pull India through. Despite his recent antics, Pujara has still fulfilled an invaluable role, and his struggle to kick on is a relatively new issue.
These five Tests are in no way Pujara’s or Rahane’s ‘last chance’ in international cricket, they are too good for that.