No matter how good you are, there is no substitute for practice. Even the best need to keep their competitive juices flowing, otherwise there is always the possibility of rust creeping in.
Take the example of Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara. Both batsman are pillars of India’s Test batting and that’s the only international format that they play.
The two were on different wavelengths at the beginning of the year, with Pujara having secured a famous Test series win in Australia with three tons in four matches and Rahane finishing the same series with two fifties and no hundreds.
Pujara at least knew he is only realistically going to play Test matches for India; Rahane still has IPL and the possibility, howsoever minor, of an ODI comeback.
Things took a turn for the worse for Rahane who lost his Rajasthan Royals captaincy midway during the 2019 IPL season. Slowly, a few doors were beginning to shut on him.
But Rahane didn’t sit idle. He went to Hampshire after the IPL and played first-class games for nearly two months. His county stint wasn’t exactly successful, with one century and a fifty from seven games. But he had quality match practice under his belt coming into the Test series against the West Indies. He scored a fifty in the practice game before staring in the Antigua Test, cracking a fifty and a ton in India’s crushing win. A 24 in the second Test was decent as well.
Compare that to Pujara’s 2019 and it becomes clear why the Saurashtra batsman looks far from his best. After playing a bunch of T20 matches in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy for his state team Saurashtra that ended on March 2, Pujara played no competitive matches for five months. His next competitive assignment was the warm-up game against the West Indies ‘A’ team and though he scored a ton there, there weren’t enough miles in his legs.
In three innings in the Test series so far, Pujara has made 2, 25 and 6. He was caught behind and bowled by Kemar Roach in the first Test and cut debutant spinner Rahkeem Cornwall to point in the second.
For a two-match Test like the current one – which was India’s first in the new Test championship – that was nowhere near adequate preparation and the rust is evident. And it is not clear whether Pujara will get ample opportunity in the second innings of the Jamaica Test to make a lasting impression.
Competition for spots in the Indian batting line-up is intense. And with Test series set be few and far between in the new calendar, specialists like Pujara can’t afford such a build-up or returns.
Remember, Rohit Sharma was kept out of the Playing XI despite being in stellar form in 2019. There are only so many chances that players get in the No1 Test team; even a proven performer like Ravi Ashwin has been benched.
While it is true that Pujara was the main architect of the Australia series win, the stakes are higher in the Test championship and no team is in a position to dwell on past performances. After all, there is 120 points at stake in each Test series.
Fast bowler S Sreesanth succeeded in gaining the right to play the game again as BCCI ombudsman DK Jain reduced his life ban – imposed on the pacer for his alleged involvement in the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal – to seven years’ suspension.
The BCCI had earlier banned Sreesanth, now 36, for life along with Rajasthan Royals teammates Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan in the aftermath of the IPL fixing scandal. But in March this year, the Supreme Court set BCCI’s order aside and asked it to reconsider its position.
In the latest order, Jain felt a seven-year suspension – six of which have already been served – would suffice, allowing the pacer to play from next year.
“For Mr Sreesanth, who is now in his late thirties, his prime years as a cricketer, particularly as a fast bowler may already be over,” Jain said in his order.
“I am of the view that banning Mr. Sreesanth from participating in any kind of commercial cricket or from associating with any activities of the BCCI or its affiliates, for a period of seven years with effect from 13.09.2013, i.e. the date from which, the period of ban imposed by the Disciplinary Committee had commenced, will meet the ends of justice,” Jain said in the order.
The BCCI had maintained that Sreesanth had been banned for life because he had “tried to influence” a match.
“The award of sentence, less than a life ban in a clear case of match fixing, can clearly impact public confidence in the game of cricket,” the BCCI was reported to have said, by ESPNcricinfo.
India began preparations for the two-match Test series against the West Indies with a tour game against the ‘A’ team in Antigua on Saturday.
The Indians batted first with KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal opening the innings. They didn’t make any significant impact with the first wicket falling on on 36.
The bigger disappointment for India was the form of Test specialist Ajinkya Rahane, who departed for just one from six balls. Rahane, who is the captain for the match, has been struggling in red ball cricket for some time.
In 14 first-class innings, including his latest outings for Hampshire in county cricket, Rahane has one century and one fifty. Also, he has been out for nought on three occasions and for one twice.
While Rahane struggles will give the Indian management some headaches, Rohit Sharma’s efforts should fill them with confidence. The ODI specialist has been given another chance to resurrect his Test career and he put his best foot forward on Saturday, hitting a fifty along with Cheteshwar Pujara. Rohit eventually departed for 68.
If it comes down to a toss-up between Rahane and Rohit, the latter might just get nod for the first Test in North Sound which starts on Thursday.