India’s second innings, 16.4 overs: Murali Vijay looks away as Cheteshwar Pujara is rapped on the pads bang in front of the stumps. What Vijay, Pujara and even the umpire do not notice is where the ball pitched. The decision is not referred. Pujara is out.
India’s score reads 47/2. India’s coach, Anil Kumble is furious. He continues to be furious as Pujara walks back into the dressing room. Damn. The ball was pitching outside leg. Had it been referred, Pujara would have been not out. What was he thinking? Was he thinking? But Pujara is too much of a nice guy. Commentator Sanjay Manjrekar says so on air in as many words.
Different standards for different players
A telling comment. Already, Pujara had used one referral in the first innings. Was that on his mind? But he did not really use it, did he? Or there was still the captain and his deputy to follow, surely the referrals were for them?
Does Pujara not remember that, because of his referral in the first innings, he went on to score his first Test century on his home ground?
England’s second innings, 4.1 overs: Mohammad Shami digs one in short, Alastair Cook pulls, Pujara runs in from the boundary, dives but fails to catch the ball. India’s captain, Virat Kohli is furious.
Now there is a clear hierarchy in the world – who you can afford to be furious with and whom you dare not raise even an eyebrow at. And definitely not on a cricket ground in an international match in front of the cameras. Previously, Pujara had torn the anterior cruciate ligament of both his knees. He has had two ACL reconstruction surgeries. Surely Kohli is aware of Pujara’s dodgy knees. Surely he will give this man more leeway in the field?
Does not India’s No. 3 in Tests with a batting average of 49.95 warrant that much? Kohli’s batting average is 46.11, his deputy, Rahane’s 49.40. Kohli has 13 centuries, Rahane has eight and Pujara nine. This is the present, and if sense and fitness prevails, the future. What was Kohli’s reaction when Rahane spilled a sitter on the third ball of the first innings? That was Cook too. What if it had not been India’s best fielder? What if Pujara had dropped Cook on the third ball?
Pujara and Vijay deserve better
Just as there has been talk of Kohli empowering his quiet wicket-keeper, Wriddhiman Saha, the team management should look to empower Pujara. The non-referral may be a stray case, but dropping him recently, tossing the batting order around, and leaning towards a lower middle order batsman in the place of your main man at three has shown poor judgement.
Then there has been the infinite talk of Pujara’s low strike rate. Through 2014-‘15, his toughest years yet, his strike rate had dropped. Digging in against the new ball along with Murali Vijay in England and Australia has been largely a thankless job. Playing out the new ball has gone largely unappreciated. Both batsman were dropped from the team.
Both batsmen scored hundreds in the first innings at Rajkot. And what about their strike rates?
Neither Pujara, nor Vijay are One-Day International regulars. Both players would be aware of how tough it is to keep playing Test cricket when you do not play the shorter formats.
It is a long Test season ahead, four more Tests against England, followed by Bangladesh and Australia. How much does India want from Pujara and Vijay? A little more respect in selection could go a long, long way.
The Rajkot Test appears to have been saved by the Kohli-Jadeja partnership. But we should know better, up against 537, was it not these two guys who batted 297 minutes, 67 overs, adding 209 runs together that made that last stand even possible?
Recently, Pujara added a new shot to his repertoire: the selfie. Like most Indian cricketers, he too is starting to have more of a presence on social media. Now it is up to Kumble and Kohli to give him more of a presence, period. What more do they want from Pujara? He may be too much of a nice guy, but he also has a shrewd cricketing brain, leading India A, batting with the tail, holding his bat – why not tap some of the smarts? Who knows, maybe the vice captaincy beckons.