It is said that teams that face a dilemma in selecting the playing XI is a reflection of their strong bench strength. India are faced with a similar problem against the West Indies and the player in question is Cheteswar Pujara. His form of late has been inadequate, runs seems to have dried up and the body language suggests loss of self confidence.
This is the same Pujara, who on his debut against Australia, guided India and even the great Sachin Tendulkar out of a difficult phase in the Chennai Test to help his team win. Pujara did not stop there. In the Delhi Test of the same series, when everyone around him was floundering on a difficult, turning track, his fluent stroke-play ensured India did the victory.
There was a time, he was hailed as the next Dravid and some even said he had more strokes and self-confidence than his illustrious predecessor at the same stage of their careers. Somewhere in between his absence from the dash and glamour of instant cricket, injuries and loss of form cost him his place in the team. India’s best batsman, an anchor in conditions difficult for the batsman to handle, was finding himself all of sudden cooling his heels in the wilderness of the dressing room.
The coach of the team on the Sri Lanka tour, Ravi Shastri’s public utterances that pitted him unfavourably against Rohit Sharma pushed him further down into near oblivion. Fortuitously for him, India’s both openers got injured and the team had no choice but to push him to open the innings. A brave match-winning hundred and the subsequent failures of Rohit got him his place back in the team.
For a batsman, who is not considered good enough for the shorter version of the game, and prefers to take his time to build his innings, his latest series of failures have once again put a question mark on his career.
That he was and still could be India’s best bet in hostile bowling conditions, as his record proves, should suggest that India would not want to sacrifice his career in a hurry.
Coach Anil Kumble, unlike the impetuous Shastri, may probably understand that a player, no matter how capable he may be, needs solid backing when passing through a crisis. Does India have the batting strength, especially in the long run and against stronger opposition, to decide that they had enough of Pujara?
The question becomes even more problematic when persisting with him would keep Murali Vijay out of the team. The second option would be to discard the faith being put in playing five-bowlers, an option difficult to opt for, especially when so much significance has been given to this bold strategy.
Whatever the decision in the end, One feels sorry for Pujara that he finds himself always living in uncertainty and that does not help.