India vs Australia 2017

India vs Australia: It’s time Virat Kohli and India gave Pujara the respect and love he deserves

Will the captain empower his best Test batsman beyond the lazy demands of critics and commentators?

Pujara’s work is never done. Not after he’s made a hundred, not after the hundred becomes a big hundred or a double hundred or a match-saving hundred or a match-winning hundred.

There will be those that will find faults with that hundred. Those on air, those off air, especially those on air. Pujara is far from being the chosen one of Indian cricket. If he’s anything, he’s the forgotten one of Indian cricket. He might well become the chosen one of world cricket before India acknowledges even half of what he’s done. Nothing he’s done, today or yesterday will ever be enough. He will have to do that extra something tomorrow.

Batting through the second day, starting from the day before, 328 balls, spell after spell of Pat Cummins, even as the more accomplished Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane decided it was ok to drop their guards against him.

Just the other day, it was debated whether it was ok to drop Rahane from the team – he wasn’t, and in Bangalore, in Pujara’s company, a match defining partnership was forged. Rahane’s 52 along with Pujara’s 92, was the first century stand of the series.

Pujara exults after reaching his double-century in Ranchi. Image credit: Sajjad Hussain/AFP
Pujara exults after reaching his double-century in Ranchi. Image credit: Sajjad Hussain/AFP

The Kohli vs Pujara debate

When Virat Kohli came out to bat, Pujara was on 44. That was four more runs than Kohli had scored in the entire series, in four innings. At stumps, Pujara on 130, Kohli 46 in five innings. Even if Kohli fails to score a half century in this series, with a tally of less than 100, his place in the team remains unquestionable.

It will be a disastrous series, a blot surely, but not one to raise more than a few passing doubts. Kohli will remain captain, and will still be considered India’s best batsmen. Or as they continue to remind us in the commentary box (more so at the start of the series than now), the world’s best batsman. By all accounts, Kohli is the world’s best limited overs’ batsman – whether he is the world’s best Test player is still questionable.It’s an open race, and will continue to be for years to come, we’re still in the early laps of a long Test marathon.

If by Kohli’s own admission, he suffered a “brain fade” letting one go, and played at others he should’ve let go, he is in likelihood going through a horror run. But this run will be interrupted and forgotten by Kohli’s almost expected magic in the Indian Premier League and the Champions Trophy. Those are formats Kohli can now play on auto-pilot.

In hindsight, this series, regardless of the result, will not hamper Kohli’s career or place in the side. Now for a moment, imagine if it was Pujara and not Kohli was going through this horror run – both have had similar Test averages for a while now, (recently Pujara’s has crossed 50 while Kohli’s has dipped below 50) – what would have happened?

Kohli and Pujara during the series against England. Image credit: IANS
Kohli and Pujara during the series against England. Image credit: IANS

The loneliness of the Test specialist

With so few runs, Pujara would not have played the fourth Test. He would not have had the luxury of switching formats and finding televised form in the IPL or the Champions Trophy. In all probability, he would have had to quietly find his way to county cricket. Not that runs there would have assured him of a spot in the playing XI.

Rohit Sharma would be fit again, and similar talk of strike rates would fill the air again. The captain would talk of aggression, articles filled with strike-rate tables would be churned out in the press. Old timers who parrot strike-rates like religious mantras in the box, would go into overdrive again.

It’s happened before. It could happen again. The last time Pujara made a comeback he opened the innings and was unbeaten when the last wicket fell. He batted 456 minutes, faced 289 balls, scored 145 runs.

More often than not however, you will hear skewed views of Rohit Sharma scoring Test runs before he was injured again. But that is the media. The core of this Indian team should know better than to be swayed by idle talk of strike-rates in a Test match – more so in a series where it’s taken five innings for an Indian to score a century.

And it’s done by the guy with the highest batting average in the team. A little respect could go a long way with Pujara. Knowing he doesn’t have to battle for his place every time he goes out to bat, could go even longer.

Both Rahane and Kohli play with that knowledge of a secure spot. Recently Kohli had unequivocally backed Rahane. Not too different from how Kohli backs Kohli.

It’s time Pujara gets some lovin’

Rahane Test average has slipped to 45.96. His strike-rate though is 52.74. As for Kohli, his average is 49.41, strike rate 55.80. Whereas Pujara’s average stands at 51.67, his strike rate is 48.80.

It’s worth mentioning that cricket commentator, Sanjay Manjrekar, who loves talking strike rates nowadays, had a strike rate of 38.67. Luckily for him though, he wasn’t in commentary then. Luckily for Kohli, he can choose to not hear him when he’s watching another Pujara pilgrimage in the middle.

There are five days to a Test. If someone has the appetite, why not feed him all five? It will matter even more, when the quicker ones go on a fast.

With his third double century, Pujara became the first Indian to bat for 500 deliveries in a Test match. Effectively batting Australia out of the game. It’s up to Kohli what he wants to make of Pujara. A player on notice. Or a player for the world to take notice of.

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