Pujara over Dhawan is the Right Order
If one discounts the strange tactics when countering Sam Curran’s batting, Virat Kohli has not got too many things wrong in the first few days of the commencement of the Test series in England, that is, until one considers the decision to play Shikhar Dhawan instead and ahead of Cheteshwar Pujara for the first Test in Birmingham.
It is hard to comprehend the thinking in the dressing room unless the intention on the part of the Indian skipper and coach Ravi Shastri was to unleash all of the team’s options in terms of openers and then let them battle it out and prove who amongst themselves would be the frontrunners for the next few Tests to come. After all, it was expected by the end of the tour, two of them would have virtually shut the door on the third. While the common conjecture was that this could be the proverbial nail in the coffin for Shikhar Dhawan as far as Test cricket was concerned, there has been a small contingent that has held on to his phenomenal performance in the ICC Champions Trophy in 2013 even though this is team India under a new skipper who is intent on reversing India’s dubious Test record overseas.
With Kohli himself such an ardent Test advocate and determined to turn around both, his and the team’s record in England, it seemed rather logical that Pujara should have been the automatic choice for the first Test, particularly in the team that, also, has Ajinkya Rahane who has not enjoyed the skipper’s vindication always despite his doggedly defiant role in the team and Hardik Pandya who is still wet behind the ears and has much to prove in the five day format in terms of his ability to shoulder the bowling role and also and more importantly, to bat responsibly and conservatively adapting to the situation in overseas conditions unlike the Twenty20 format in which he has been more successful.
Given that Shikhar Dhawan has fared no better than Pujara who is a specialist Test batsman at this point and the fact that India could have gone ahead with the other two more favourable openers in Murali Vijay and KL Rahul, it seemed a no brainer that despite Pujara’s struggle in domestic cricket in England prior to the tour, he should have been in India’s playing eleven for the first Test and thereby given the opportunity to prove himself or otherwise. After all, Dhawan’s bleak performance on the curtailed tour match did not inspire confidence, unless the Indian captain has an inside track that not all are privy to.
Arguably in the wake of the retirement of Rahul Dravid as a defensive batsman in the pivotal no.3 slot, India have struggled to establish anyone with a caliber and skill better than Pujara who has not always been able to then validate that decision. Test cricket hardly affords any team to toy with more than one slot even in the most flexible scenario. With injuries to the wicketkeeper and problems galore in terms of narrowing down on the two openers and a brittle looking middle order that failed to adequately support Virat Kohli in the first Test, there are not too many assurances for the Indian cricket team in England for a five Test series.
With so many positions in flux – not the best scenario for any Test team, particularly one playing away from home, if someone had to be given a chance, one would have thought it would have been the specialist Test batsman in a crucial position and not an opener with a rather long rope to hold on to without much legitimacy. Unless Pujara was going to make the team, it seems practically futile to carry excess baggage at this end of the tour. If Kohli could have withstood a Test average of thirteen on the previous tour of England to score a century in his first innings on this tour, why should Pujara not be backed to come good? It is a far-fetched comparison but a legitimate question nonetheless.