England vs India: India’s recent loss in the ICC World Test Championship final has raised serious questions regarding the positions of Indian middle-order batsmen Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, and Ajinkya Rahane. These three strong pillars of the Indian middle-order have been inconsistent and have been struggling for form in the last couple of years. This calls for an immediate revamp in the middle order ahead of the next World Test Championship (2021-2023) cycle. One man among these three who might get the ax moving forward is Cheteshwar Pujara. Replacing him at number three with captain Virat Kohli is bound to bring more stability to the modern-day Indian middle order. Here are the 5 prime reasons why we think so.
Cheteshwar Pujara is one of the rarest pieces in modern-day cricket. In this age of fast-paced T20 and T10 cricket, it is difficult to find someone with an old-school resilience like Cheteshwar Pujara. His ability to bat long and wear down the opposition bowlers is second to no one. If he is in his zone, then there is absolutely no chance for the opposition bowlers. But off late this has not been the case. He has been inconsistent and has been struggling for form. This may prompt the team to look beyond Pujara for England series and the next WTC cycle. Kohli also hinted the same in his post-match press conference by saying:
“Need to bring in the right people who have right mindset to perform”
So there are chances that Kohli himself may promote up the order by replacing Pujara in the upcoming series. Here are the 5 prime reasons why we think so:
The first and the main reason that may force the Indian think tank to drop Pujara is his form itself. Despite once being India’s go-to man in red-ball cricket, he had been struggling for form in the last couple of years. It’s been 30 Tests since he has scored a 100. Moreover, the fact that he averaged only in the late 20s in the entire World Test Championship 2019-2021, calls for an immediate replacement.
The number three position is one of the most important positions in Test match cricket. This is one of those positions where the player will have to play the dual role of seeing the new ball and building the innings based on whether the openers collapse or get a quick start. Unfortunately, it is one area that backfired India in the entire WTC 2019-2021. And the man who has batted for India in that position throughout this period is Cheteshwar Pujara.
When the top teams like New Zealand, Australia, and England benefited from the humungous contribution from their number threes like Williamson, Labuschagne, and Root, India struggled badly with Pujara averaging only 29, while batting in this most important position.
The fact that Virat has been the best ever number three in white-ball cricket will make his transition to red-ball cricket much easier.
The strike rate is never a matter of great concern in Test match cricket. But the fact that Pujara takes up so many deliveries to get his runs puts unnecessary pressure on the batsman at the other end. He has the lowest strike rate among all batsmen in the inaugural World Test Championship. This forces the other batsman to be the stroke player on every occasion thereby making their chances of getting out much higher. This can be a concern for any batsman unless the other batsman is a Virat Kohli or Steve Smith.
This is where bringing in a Virat Kohli at number three can be useful for India in the long run. He can be the stroke maker and can also hold one end tight if the situation demands so. This move could help India have a flexible middle order where a KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, or even a Hanuma Vihari could be slotted as an extra stroke player.
Competition is never less in Indian cricket. A well-structured domestic setup and an immensely versatile talent pool have given rise to many talented cricketers in India in every format. Some young players that are pushing hard for his spot are KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, and Hanuma Vihari. All these players are versatile in their own nature and can bat at any position in any conditions. The fact that they have proved their talent at the international level makes their cases even stronger. Mayank is one of India’s leading run-scorers in the World Test Championship and KL has a century batting at number three in Australia. And if resilience is one thing that gives Pujara an edge, then there is Hanuma Vihari to challenge him in that aspect. So, with a two-year cycle in front, it’s worth trying out any of these youngsters in the playing eleven.
England is the toughest place to bat on. Overcast conditions and ball swinging in both direction makes it very tough for any batsmen and especially for the ones from sub-continent to survive in those conditions. Only a handful of Indian batsmen have done well in England. And Pujara is not one among them. He averages just 27.52 in England, scoring just 523 runs in 20 innings with just one century. He is not at his best when the ball starts doing a bit, and hence someone like Agarwal or Rahul can replace him in England with Kohli moving up the order.
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