The moment skipper Virat Kohli announced that six batsmen and five bowlers would be his preferred combination to improve the chance to take 20 wickets, it was clear Cheteshwar Pujara’s comeback would have to wait. Ajinkya Rahane has cemented his place with consistency across formats. Shikhar Dhawan has cashed in on the long rope he has been given, and should he fail, KL Rahul has already put up his hand with a maiden century in Sydney.
Pujara scored a fantastic 153 against South Africa in 2013 but for too long, he has not converted starts. Absence from ODIs and T20s has also hurt his chances. In the five ODIs he played, the last one against Bangladesh a year ago, Pujara didn’t make a fifty. That his style of play wasn’t popular with people who matter was confirmed when Pujara wasn’t picked by any franchise in this IPL. Left out, Pujara decided to play county cricket for Yorkshire to sort out his technique. A fifty and a century, against Hampshire, in six innings isn’t that bad, but maybe not enough to get into a team led by a man with four centuries in his last four Tests.
With Kohli and Shastri at the helm, aggression would be the keyword. On current form, Rohit Sharma has a head start over Pujara for a place in the middle-order. No man scores two double hundreds in ODIs just like that. More crucial is the effortlessness with which Sharma shifts gears during his innings.
He either fails or scores big. Pujara is more a grafter for long periods of play. With Murali Vijay already showing in England and Australia that he can play that part as opener, Kohli would want a middle-order that can pressure opponents into leaking runs.
This is only the second Test for which Pujara has been dropped, but all is not lost, feels Ashwin. “Different people have been left out at different times, so it’s not like you actually look out for sympathy and say, ‘Oh my god, that guy’s going to sit out’. That’s not how the game goes. I’m not trying to be harsh, but I’m speaking the truth,” he said on Wednesday. “The scenario is very simple --- if you play five bowlers, you sacrifice a batsman.”
It might be as simple as Ashwin says. It also means Pujara may have to wait till India scale down their aggressive mindset. With Kohli and Shastri around, that looks unlikely.