If Root can, why can’t Pujara?
Over the past few years, Team India has been struggling to discover a No.4 to solidify their middle order. In this quest, team management and selectors have experimented with almost every player available in the Indian circuit starting from veterans like Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu to youngsters like Ajinkya Rahane, Manoj Tiwary and Manish Pandey, but no ploy has worked yet. Unfortunately, Indian cricket fans have seen a new a No.4 with almost every series.
Despite having arguably the best top three (Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli) in the world and few of the finest finishers of the game (MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik) at the lower end, Team India, for the very first time in their history, were not comfortable with their batting line up while stepping towards the ICC World Cup 2019.
Eventually, MSK Prasad led selection committee quite surprisingly picked Vijay Shankar for the No.4 slot for the ICC World Cup 2019 for his ‘3D’ skills; however the team management ended up fielding four players on that slot in their nine matches - KL Rahul, Hardik Pandya, Vijay Shankar and Rishabh Pant - some forced due to unfortunate injuries and some based on game situations.
Keeping a nightmare at bay
In every game, team India feared a top-order debacle but an excellent run of form for Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli kept the inevitable away until the nightmare turned into reality on the worse day possible – World Cup semi-final.
And once again, post the marquee event, the never ending search just seems to continue. While the team management is now backing the new generation for the No.4 slot – Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey, they should consider one player that has been simply ignored for all this while purely for his strike rate and have labeled him exclusively a Test batsman – Cheteshwar Pujara.
Root of the problem
If England, one of the most destructive team in the world at the moment, can have Joe Root playing at No.3 with a modest strike rate of under 90 (135 Innings), why can’t India have Pujara bat at No. 4?
Way back in 2013, he was given the opportunity to represent India in white-ball cricket and only after five innings, he was dismissed (51 runs, Average 10.20, Strike Rate 39.23).. And until today, has never been considered again.
Just like England, India have excellent hard-hitting players but do not have one batsman that can be trusted consistently to play to inning of substance when top order under delivers. Up until now, the onus fell on to the ageing shoulders of MS Dhoni and came under extreme criticism for playing slow cricket in the World Cup.
And now that legend is anticipated to announce his retirement sometime soon, India desperately needs a player with a solid technique to bail the team out of challenging situations and possesses the temperament to play long innings. Considering the experience, and the skill set, Cheteshwar Pujara stands way ahead of any another player at the very moment.
Very similar to Root, Pujara's solid batting will provide the stability to the batting line-up and enable the players around him to play their natural game. Not only that, his innings will ensure an excellent platform for our finishers to launch themselves in the last power play (41-50 overs) and build up a massive total.
With regards to his strike rate, Pujara has shown his aggressive side in IPL (22 innings) by scoring runs at relatively-brisk strike rate of 99.74. Given the opportunity, just like any other player, he is likely to grow in confidence and score runs freely.
Though it may make lot of sense to try out new. upcoming talent but in case they do not deliver the goods, India should certainly give an opportunity to Pujara to prove himself and solve India’s No.4 problem – it’s worth a try!