Sunil Gavaskar likens Cheteshwar Pujara to Rahul Dravid
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The 68-year-old expressed his happiness with the Indian cricket team management, especially skipper Virat Kohli, for sticking with Pujara when he was going through a lean patch and added that it proved that the team rated him as highly as someone of Rahul Dravid's calibre.
"Cheteshwar Pujara is the backbone of the Indian team," Gavaskar told NDTV. "He is highly rated as Rahul Dravid was."
As for India's team combination for the second Test against Sri Lanka which begins on Wednesday, Gavaskar feels that Abhinav Mukund should be the one making way in case KL Rahul makes a comeback as an opener as Shikhar Dhawan's knock 0f 190 was a match-winning one.
"Shikhar Dhawan has to play in the team," he said. "His innings in 1st Test was more impactful than Abhinav Mukund's."
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India won the first Test against Sri Lanka at Galle by a comprehensive margin of 304 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the 3-match series. Dhawan set up the victory with his knock of 190 in the first innings while Mukund also played a key role in the second innings with a knock of 81 in the second innings.
While both players made the most of the chance they got after injuries to first-choice openers Murali Vijay and KL Rahul, the return of the latter for the second Test could mean one of either Dhawan or Mukund making way.
Gavaskar expects the opener's slot to be the only point of discussion when the Indian team management sits down to pick the playing eleven for the second Test.
He backed Dhawan to get the nod ahead of Mukund after the way he set up victory for the team with his aggressive knock on the opening day of the first Test.
Apart from Dhawan, Pujara and Kohli also registered centuries in the match with Pujara continuing his impeccable run of form in the longest format of the game.
Pujara's spot in the side was up for debate when India toured Sri Lanka back in 2015, but he silenced the doubters with a match-winning knock in the deciding Test and has not looked back since.
He scored centuries against Australia, England (2) and New Zealand during India's highly successful home Test season in 2016/17 and Gavaskar feels that the 29-year-old has become as dependable as Rahul Dravid and is thankful that the team management appreciates his importance to the Test side.
While India's selection headache is a good one to have, the hosts are struggling to get their best players fit and ready in time.
While new Test skipper Dinesh Chandimal was initially ruled out of the first two Tests, he was named in the squad for the second Test along with Lahiru Thirimanne and Lakshan Sandakan with Asela Gunaratne and Suranga Lakmal ruled out due to injuries.
It is hard to disagree with Gavaskar in his assertion that Pujara has established himself as the backbone of the Indian Test side. After an impressive start to his Test career, there was a period when Pujara was struggling to convert the starts into big scores thereby inviting criticism from some quarters.
But with guidance from Rahul Dravid himself, Pujara has worked on his concentration and has been impeccable in the Test format and is an automatic selection these days. The level of consistency bodes well for the Indian side and for Pujara himself with the competition for places as high as ever in the World's No 1 Test side.