Why not Pujara at #4 in ODIs going into the World Cup?
India lost the first ODI against Australia at Sydney by 34 runs. In reply to Australia’s score of 288 for 5, India finished with 254 for 9 in 50 overs. Rohit Sharma’s magnificent 133 could not earn India a win as any of the other batsmen except M.S. Dhoni(51) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar(29) could make any meaningful contributions. The fourth highest scorer of the innings was extras.
As a result, Australia won the first ODI by 34 runs and has taken a 1-0 lead in the three-match ODI series. In a related development, Shubman Gill and Vijay Shankar have been named as replacements for K.L. Rahul and Hardik Pandya. While Vijay Shankar will come in as an immediate replacement for Pandya, Gill will join the team in the New Zealand leg of the tour.
When one analyzes the reasons behind India’s poor show, three glaring reasons would come on top. The first reason was India’s inability to take wickets in the middle overs which enabled Australia to add 92, 53 & 68 runs for the third, fourth and fifth wickets respectively. In the absence of Jasprit Bumrah at the death, India conceded 93 runs in the last 10 overs which were the second reason for India’s defeat.
However, the most important reason for India’s defeat was the failure of the top order. In the chase, India was reduced to 4 for 3 in 4 overs and the game got over then and there despite the towering presence of Rohit Sharma till the 46th over.
The failure of the Indian top order on batting friendly conditions has brought us about to requiring additional batting arsenal in the form of Cheteshwar Pujara. This might sound weird but definitely an attractive option worth trying.
To lend support to this argument, the following valid reasons can be put forth:
# Pujara is in tremendous form of late. In the recently concluded Test series, Pujara finished with 521 runs in 7 innings at an average of 74. The Indian selectors should exploit Pujara’s good form to reap rich benefits to the team.
# Pujara is the ideal player who is quite capable of steadying the ship if the team loses two quick wickets.
# Pujara is a technically sound player who can be an asset to counter the bowler-friendly conditions in the World Cup in England. His county experience would come in handy in tackling the adverse batting conditions at the start of an innings in England. More so, with the World Cup scheduled to happen in the early part of English summer when the wickets are expected to be fresh and seamer-friendly.
# Pujara has shown in the recent past that he could up the ante once settled. He could do justice to his strike rate once he bats deep into his innings. Besides, he has improved his batting skills to bat aggressively with the tail.
# It is easy for a technically sound Test player like a Pujara to adapt easily to the one-day format provided he is given a long rope. Top Test batsmen like Dilip Vengsarakar, Mohammad Azharuddin and Rahul Dravid have proved in the past that they could be equally effective in ODIs and there is always a place for players like them in the one-day format of the game. To be fair to Pujara, he has been given the opportunity to play only in 5 ODIs so far before he has been branded as a Test player.
The other factors to consider are
# For Team India, the No 4 position is very much vacant on overseas conditions. After the Sydney game, Vice-Captain Rohit Sharma has suggested that Dhoni could be the right man at No 4 for India.
The only problem with that choice is that if India happens to lose 2 quick wickets in the World Cup say for 10 runs, with due respect to Dhoni’s batting skills, there is more likelihood of the scorecard becoming 15 for 3 with Dhoni at #4. A player like a Pujara could bring in a steadying influence to the batting at No 4 in such trying circumstances.
# In the case of other contenders in similar situations, only Ajinkya Rahane could come close to Pujara in terms of arresting the slide. More flamboyant players like Ambati Rayadu, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav, and Suresh Raina are more likely to succumb under such initial onslaught from the opposition bowlers on trying overseas conditions.
These players are better players on sub-continental wickets when the team score is 100 for 2. However, on alien conditions, with the scorecard reading 10 for 2, they could very well be on cue.
# Even now it is not too late to bring Pujara into the World Cup scheme of things if it is going to serve the team’s cause. The Indians have a total of 10 ODIs to play before the World Cup excluding the current series against Australia. If Pujara could be tried starting from the New Zealand series, he will have an adequate number of matches to prove himself before the World Cup.
The selectors have now selected Shubman Gill to replace K.L. Rahul. Gill was nowhere in the picture until yesterday and now he finds himself in the reckoning for the World Cup. The Aussies are experimenting with Test specialists like Peter Siddle, Peter Handscomb and Usman Khawaja in place of one-day specialists like Chris Lynn, D’Arcy Short, and Mitch Marsh. India can follow the same pattern with Chateshwar Pujara.
To conclude, as the opportunities overweigh the obstacles, it is worth trying Pujara at this stage as a possible effective option for the World Cup.