Getting dropped from any team is not the end of the world. Team combination, pitch conditions and opposition some time force team managements to make strategic calls in the final XI. However, the decision to drop Cheteshwar Pujara from the India side for the first Test against England will be hard to digest not just for the player but for many cricket fans as well.
Pujara has been out for form in red ball cricket, there is no doubt about that. He would have been under pressure had he been selected for the first Test; his recent stint in county cricket with Yorkshire was abysmal – an average of less than 15 after 12 innings.
Even so, Pujara is a Test specialist. Whenever India tour outside Asia, Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have generally been seen as the batsmen who can hold one end together when the conditions are challenging. But for the first Test that started on Wednesday, India went in for the uncertain batting for Shikhar Dhawan at the top of the order instead of the generally assured, even if sometimes unproductive, batting of Pujara.
In the last three years, Cheteshwar Pujara has made 2458 Test runs. Virat Kohli is the only Indian batsman to make more. #ENGvIND— The Cricket Prof. (@CricProf) August 1, 2018
Yes, Pujara doesn’t score freely but in Tests you need one player in you bating order to be able to block a session or so. That someone like Dhawan who bagged a pair in the warm-up game before the Test and has a suspect technique against the moving ball was chosen ahead of Pujara would be a bitter pill to swallow.
In 2016, Pujara was called out by the Indian management for slow scoring. From 2016 onwards, he got involved in six of India’s next eight run outs. His solid technique has also started to desert him with South Africa pace ace Dale Steyn dismissing him for successive ducks in English domestic cricket in June.
And now he has lost his place to Dhawan whose technique against the moving ball is flaky. Pujara is not the fittest 30-year-old in the world and offers a very specific style of batting. A player who was once called the next Rahul Dravid of Indian cricket is now seen as a batsmen with excess baggage without substantial returns. It will be a long way back for Pujara if Dhawan and KL Rahul cement their positions.
Potential is a very tricky trait in sport. It promises a lot but when the player fails to live up to it, it doesn’t mean an automatic exit from the team. The possibility of what can be is too endearing and many teams hold on to that dream a lot longer than the player himself.
India fast bowler Ishant Sharma is one such player. Ever since he made his debut in 2007, Ishant has promised the moon. His height, natural bounce, pace and zip off the pitch raised hopes of a superstar in the making. But 11 years after a dream start that included a sensational tour of Australia in 2008, Ishant can’t even be called the best Indian fast bowler of this generation.
Every pacer worth his salt has that one big win under his belt. England’s Andrew Flintoff has the 2005 Ashes. James Anderson has the 2011 Ashes win in Australia and the 2012 series win in India. Zaheer Khan has the 2007 Test series win in England and the 2011 World Cup triumph. Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir has the 2017 Champions Trophy final winning spell.
There are many contemporary quicks who have that one moment where they made the difference and etched their name in the history books.
Early Call—Ishant Sharma to have one of the most fruitful Test series in his career. 20+ wickets if he stayed fit. #EngvInd— Aakash Chopra (@cricketaakash) July 31, 2018
Ishant doesn’t have that yet. For a major chunk of his career, Ishant was labelled an unlucky bowler who beat the bat a lot without getting wickets. It took the Delhi pacer the best part of a decade to pull his length back and concentrate on bowling straight to get the lbw calls and edges.
Yes he does have the seven-wicket haul in the 2014 Lord’s Test and two wickets in the 2013 Champions Trophy final – both in winning causes – but that doesn’t define a career.
The 29-year-old has played 82 Tests but only has 238 wickets. That’s not even three scalps per match. The best in the business are closer to four and five per game.
And yet, he has time on his side. That’s the benefit of starting as a teenager. Ishant is at his peak at the moment with his body and action as good as it will ever be. He has played county cricket in England this season and now concentrates on red ball cricket almost exclusively.
He is not the No1 fast bowler in the Indian team. Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami are ahead of him when it comes to skill and effectiveness. But Ishant has experience. And with injuries to Bumrah and Bhuvi, along with indifferent form and personal issues of Shami, Sharma is the leader of the pack.
The five-Test series in England is the opportunity for him to take the bull by the horns and give it his all. This stretch of international cricket is the best shot Ishant has of carving a niche for himself. And it’s high time the tall quick showed what he can really do with the ball.
These are the contests that will decide the eagerly awaited England v India Test series.
The India top order vs the England strike bowlers. But who has the edge?
We looked at three key contests:
Virat Kohli vs James Anderson
This will be one of the key battles of the Test series as the No1 Indian batsmen takes on the No1 England bowler.
It’s been a fairly even contest between these two stretching back to 2012. In that series in India, Anderson kept Kohli pretty quiet, conceding just 23 runs off 81 balls, but he also only got him out just once – caught in the slips by Graeme Swann for six in the third Test.
In 2014 Anderson completely dominated the Indian captain dismissing him with late out swingers four times for just 19 runs at a meagre average of 4.75.
Showing how much the England paceman was in charge that series, Anderson only took on average 12.5 balls to dismiss Kohli, getting him edging each time – once caught behind, once at second slip and twice by Alastair Cook at first slip.
But in 2016 in India Kohli had the last laugh taking Anderson for 69 runs off 112 balls faced at a respectable strike rate of 45.68.
Who will come out on top this time?
Ajinkya Rahane v Stuart Broad
This is another duo dominated again by the England bowler.
In 2014 in England, Broad was in charge, restricting Rahane to just 41 runs off 139 balls at a humble strike rate of 29.5, while dismissing him three times at an average of just 13.6.
It may have taken Broad a while to get Rahane, an average of 46.3 balls per wicket, but he still picked him up cheaply – twice caught by keeper Matt Prior and a screamer at third slip by Gary Balance in the fifth test.
It was the same story in India in 2016 with the right hand opener enduring a nightmare series where he scored just 63 runs from five innings at an average of 12.6.
His contest with Broad reflected that with the England man conceding just 5 runs off 15 balls for one dismissal – caught by Cook at first slip in the second Test.
If India are to be competitive in this series Rahane must deal with Broad better.
Cheteshwar Pujara v Ben Stokes
This is one India wins comfortably and they will look forward to the England all-rounder coming on while Pujara is at the crease.
In England in 2014 the Indian opener took Stokes for 50 runs at a healthy run-rate of 53.2 for just one dismissal – bowled middle stump in the second Test from a ball that nipped back from outside off.
It got a little better for Stokes in India two years ago when he conceded 69 runs, including 12 boundaries, at a strike rate of 60 but managed to dismiss the right hander twice – taking 57.5 balls each time at an average of 34.5.
The first came in the First Test in Rajkot when Stokes had him caught at slip by Cook after he had complied a 206-ball 124.
Stokes got him exactly the same way in the Fifth Test in Chennai but this time for just 16.