Cheteshwar Pujara raises his bat after reaching 150 runs during the second innings of the first Test against South Africa at Wanderers stadium in Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
If there is an issue that should rankle any cricket follower in India, it is the Cheteshwar Pujara question. He is, without doubt, the best batsman, along with Virat Kohli, in India. Yet, he does not figure in the Indian one-day team. What could be the reason for the selectors and MS Dhoni ignoring him?
The most obvious one could be that his fitness is suspect, having undergone a knee operation, which has slowed his movements on the field. Judging by his South African performance, this surmise may not hold. He may not be a panther on the prowl, but does have a safe pair of hands and legs that chase a ball with speed and energy.
The second reason to keep him away could be to preserve him for the longer version of the game. This argument has in the present context become archaic, as India does not make any distinction between the two formats, when it comes to selecting their teams. Besides, who is to judge what is good for him and not for others?
Another argument against his selection could be that he lacks the thrust and aggression needed in the shorter version of the game. This again would be a fallacious reasoning, as Pujara can be, as he has shown, as attacking and innovative as any in the game. He defends for long hours when required and unleashes a barrage of strokes whenever the match situation demands. What lends strength to the team is his impeccable technique in adverse conditions where most of the others have failed.
India in South Africa and now in their first defeat in New Zealand, have shown an extremely vulnerable side of their batting where Pujara’s ability to anchor and then accelerate would be an asset. He, in tandem with Kohli, could provide that vital impetus which India so badly needs.
India should also keep in mind that they are playing most of their cricket this year on pitches where only those survive who have the ability to play pace, bounce and swing well. Unfortunately, there are not many who have so far survived this test even in the one-dayers. And not everyone is as fortunate as Suresh Raina to retain the faith of the captain despite a long stretch of failure.
Given the fact that the 2015 World Cup will be played in Australia-New Zealand, shouldn’t India think of Pujara as their main choice and not keep him on standby?
Regardless of the conditions, it is most unfair to keep your most outstanding batsman out of the team. Why it is being done, only the selectors can explain.