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India’s Middle Order Conundrum – Pujara, Kohli, Rahane average under 30 from 2020

Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara form Team India's middle order and this trio hasn't contributed enough with the bat to India's success since 2020. They average below 30. Lack of runs from India's big three is a concern.

Ind vs Eng 2021: Virat Kohli hasn't scored a hundred since last 49 international innings he has played. India vs England 2021.
Kolhi and Pujara are yet to score a ton since last 10 and 13 tests they have played. (Getty Images)

The Indian cricket team has always been studded with many batting goliaths. From the time of Sunil Gavaskar, Mohinder Amarnath, Gundappa Viswanath, Dilip Vengsarkar to nineties superstars like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag, we have seen many batting stalwarts in Indian colours.

However, the same cannot be said about Indian batters of the current era. Even if skipper Virat Kohli successfully filled the shoes of Sachin Tendulkar, the Indian team has struggled to find a dependable batsman in the middle-order to assist him consistently despite Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane rising to the occasion on several occasions to help their team win Test matches abroad.

Kohli, Pujara and Rahane have averaged under 30 in Tests from start of 2020

Indian middle-order batsmen Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane along with skipper Virat Kohli have had little success in recent times. Pujara and Rahane both have played 13 Tests from the start of 2020; however, both have averaged less than 30 in the stipulated period. Whereas skipper Kohli has played 10 Tests from the start of 2020 and scored only 407 runs with a meagre average of 23.94. Kohli and Pujara couldn’t register any three-figure score in this timeframe whereas Rahane could score only one ton.

Test Record of Team India Middle Order From 2020

Virat Kohli is going through a spell of bad form in this period however, the problems of Pujara and Rahane are old. Skipper Kohli averages over 64 at home in Test cricket while Pujara averages over 56 at home. Vice-Captain of the team Rahane averages around 36 at home, which is unimpressive considering he is an experienced campaigner in Test cricket. Also, all these three batsmen have good numbers in Sri Lanka. So, let's have a look at their away record in Test cricket.

Analysis of batting averages in Tests abroad 2018 onwards of Pujara, Rahane and Kohli

Pujara's Record in Tests away from Asia

As we can see in the above chart, Cheteshwar Pujara averaged below par in the tours of South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand, World Test Championship (WTC) final with an average below 25. He averaged 39.71 on the 2018 tour of England which was not enough for India’s most experienced batsman in Test cricket. However, there was one silver lining as he dominated the Test tour of Australia in 2018 with 521 runs along with three magnificent centuries.

His record in previous tours of England, South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand display that he is having problems with the moving the ball in conditions that aid swing and seam. Pujara is playing a lot cautiously and patiently on away tours so when he gets out, he doesn’t make any significant contribution to the team score many times even if having faced many numbers balls. He couldn't capitalise and score runs off bad balls on away tours. Thus, after playing 11 years of international cricket, he couldn’t crack the code of batting in foreign conditions.

Rahane's Record in Tests away from Asia

Also, we can look at the numbers of Ajinkya Rahane on out of Asia Test tours, they signify that his batting suffered in foreign conditions. The deputy of Kohli averaged less than 30 in the Test tours to Australia, South Africa and England in 2018. Also, he averaged a mere 22.75 on the New Zealand tour. The Mumbaikar has scored only one century in the recent Australia tour, also one in the West Indies tour among his all out of Asia tours from 2018. His problems are different from that of Pujara in that Rahane couldn’t stay long enough on the pitch to dominate the bowling attack to score runs. The veteran batsman should take some time on the field before playing his shots.

Kohli's Record in Tests away from Asia

We can see in the above chart that Virat Kohli has played well in tours of South Africa, England, Australia in 2018. Whereas if one looks at Kohli’s record in the New Zealand tour of 2020, the WTC final look dull. His recent struggles are due to his impatience on the batting pitch. Also, his tendency to play balls outside the off stump put him in danger against swing bowling. In swing friendly conditions, batsmen must put a break to their ambitions of playing shots early in the innings.

Mayank Agarwal as Opener and KL Rahul one down

Chesteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have been facing the heat for not performing to the standard they set in the past and have been among the news for all wrong reasons. However, they have shown the glimpses of a solid comeback in the Lord's Test with Pujara and Rahane scoring 45 and 61 in the second innings when English bowlers were all over Team India.

Having said that, a single innings doesn't guarantee the place in playing XI. Team management would draw a lot confidence from team's effort in tough conditions and would like to continue with the same combination. Just in case the middle order doubt creeps in and need a re-look then, might consider using KL Rahul's good from at number 3 and Mayank Agrawal who has recovered from concussion injury, as a opener. Hanuma Vihari can also be considered for Ajinkya Rahane if there is continuous dip in form.

India will play England at Leeds in the third Test of the ongoing five-Test series between the two countries between August 25-29.

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