Pujara, Rahane average 20.66 and 22.66 respectively in recently concluded Freedom Trophy.
“Form is temporary, class is permanent.” This is what Cheteshwar Pujara had stated, not in words but with bat in hand, responding with a half-century on a tough Wanderers strip, at times going at a strike rate of 70, during the 2nd Test in Freedom Trophy 2021-22.
In the recently concluded India’s tour to South Africa, Pujara had just 124 runs at an average of 20.66. When he got out in the first innings of the Boxing Day Test, it was his second duck in his last three innings.
Pujara’s Average falling below 45
Leaving some of the rare occasions, the runs haven’t come regularly from India’s Test number three. Human memory cells need to perform an exhaustive search to find a century from Pujara in Tests and his form has plunged sharply in the recent times with his average falling under 45 for the first time since 2012.
Even though Pujara himself hadn’t felt any sort of change in his technique as he stated to PTI, “When it comes to technique, I don’t think there was a major change.” But it does appear for an observer of the game that his backward leg collapsing issue while going onto the front foot is making it hard for him to tackle the ball and a golden duck at Centurion was the finest example of that.
Worst figures on frontfoot for Pujara
Since the beginning of 2018, Cheteshwar Pujara had the highest number of dismissals (29) on the front foot while the second in the list has 16 dismissals on frontfoot. Pujara also has a rate of 40.3 in terms of balls per dismissals playing the balls on frontfoot.
During the first innings of the second Test in Johanneburg, when all the members of the top and middle-order batters of India, leaving Ajinkya Rahane, had double figure scores, Pujara left no stone unturned to score 3 off 32 balls before being sent back to the dressing room.
Luck Factor not helping Pujara
To be fair on Pujara, the luck factor seems to have cut the bond of friendship with him. In both the innings in the third Test at Newlands, after a start just when it looked like he would get back to his old form, he received a great delivery in the first innings to which he had no answer while in the second innings, Keegan Petersen grabbed an unbelievable catch to end his South Africa tour.
Even during the start of last year, in the first Test in Chennai against England, after reaching 73, he straightway pulled a half-tracker from Dom Bess in the hands of silly mid-on.
Crucial contributions at Lord’s and The Oval in 2021 only saving grace for Pujara
On India’s tour of England in 2021, Pujara made a notable 227 runs, even though without a three-figure score, at an average of 32.43 being fourth in the list of run-scorers. He combined with Rahane in a 100-run stand for the fourth wicket in the second innings of the Lord’s Test to take India from a precarious 55-3 to 155-4. Of course, the cameos by Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami actually enabled India to propel their score to 298-8d to set a challenging total for England in the fourth innings. Then at The Oval, Pujara combined with Rohit Sharma to produce a 153 run-stand for the second wicket to help set the foundation for India’s score of 466 as a result of which England were set a daunting target of 368 in the fourth innings.
India won both the Tests and are leading England in the still incomplete 5-Test series by a margin of 2-1.
It is true that he has nothing else to show for still being a part of the team but the rate of scoring runs is really inconsistent for a top batters.
The curious case of Ajinkya Rahane
It was around the same time last year when Ajinkya Rahane was honoured with garlands in the streets of Mumbai just after coming from Australia as stand-in skipper of India who had won their second consecutive Test series there. Despite the fact that Rahane’s form wasn’t good leaving a few innings such as the marvelous Melbourne hundred which propelled India back in the series after a nightmarish beginning in Adelaide where they folded up for 36-9; some people were even expressing their thoughts of making him the regular Test captain.
Times have changed as most of the same fans have already given him an online farewell after his last innings in Cape Town. The average of the Mumbai boy has fallen quite surprisingly to 38.52 from 44.05.
The old Rahane and his Resilience
It was in those past years since 2013, when Ajinkya Rahane all the time after crossing the rope appeared to be amongst the scores always. His 96 in Johannesburg in 2014, century at Lord’s or in Wellington both coming in 2014, 147 in Melbourne back in 2014 or even the 48 at Wanderers 4 years back had caught many eyeballs. But the last couple of years have been the a struggle for the former India vice-captain; although, unlike Pujara he has a century to his name.
But barring that MCG knock, he too doesn’t have any impactful knocks to stick for a longer time in the side.
Technical problem for Rahane
“Absolutely, he is not decisive (while deciding whether to play on frontfoot or the backfoot). If your foot stays rooted to the ground, then you are forced to play from the crease,” revealed VVS Laxman on Star Sports about Rahane’s first Test dismissal against New Zealand in Kanpur in November 2021.
“He looks like he wants to be aggressive; he doesn’t feel tentative while he is batting. But still, he is getting out and ostensibly that starts to weigh on a batter’s mind,” former Blackcaps all-rounder Daniel Vettori explained in a match-day show on EspnCricinfo.
The poor record of Rahane for last 5 years
From 2013 to 2016, Ajinkya Rahane had collected 2272 runs at 47.33 including eight tons and nine half-centuries while going with 1588 runs in 21 away Tests at 51.22 thanks to his five 100s and eight 50s.
However, since 2017 to 2020, Rahane managed just 2112 runs at 39.84 with four hundreds and 13 fifties. He scored 809 runs in 16 home Tests at 38.52 while overseas, the average registered was 40.71.
Rahane had grabbed 554 runs in 2017, followed by 644 runs in 2018 before registering 642 runs in 2019 and 272 runs in COVID-hit 2020.
Since his magical Melbourne hundred in December 2020, he has snatched just 547 runs in 15 games at a below par average of 20.25 with three fifties and 11 single-digit scores. At home, he recorded 151 runs in five games at 18.87 while seizing 396 runs in 10 away Tests at 20.84.
Will India still back their two veterans?
There has been some time since India’s team management is backing both of the experienced campaigners but with failure in important games, they seem to be like the elephant in the room. So, it may be high time for the selectors to use the young stars in their places.
After Rohit Sharma’s return, the possible opening slot may get settled between him and KL Rahul. India may use Shubman Gill at the number three position or push Rohit Sharma to three and continue with KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal at the top. However, this is highly unlikely of Rohit Sharma shuffling his batting position. Hanuma Vihari is also another solid player who has proved himself at the top of the order as well as at his usual position.
If Gill, Iyer and Vihari are not given enough chances in India’s upcoming home series against Sri Lanka in March, it can be a bit tough for them to get settled into the respective positions in overseas conditions right from the word go.
Both Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have served Indian cricket enough in big times but it should be the time to look beyond them; both being 33-years can make a possible return to the side if they score runs in huge numbers in the domestic circuit. Afterall, more than individual success, it’s all about taking Indian cricket forward.