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The Pujara Conundrum


Cheteshwar Pujara-India-CricketIndia's World Cup squad has been announced. Thousands of fans and experts alike had an opinion on what the final 15 should be. I followed the discussions on Twitter with much interest, fully aware of the personal bias that comes into play when fans usually pick their teams. Despite that, not in one team did Cheteshwar Pujara make the cut. Or even discussed as a possibility. Rightly so. 

About a year ago, you would have expected fans to be disappointed with exclusion of Pujara, not Vijay or Uthappa. Things have definitely gone South for the man from Saurashtra. Just the one century in away tests is just not good enough for the man being touted as the next wall. No one is quiet giving up on him yet as we have seen plenty from Pujara in the past, technique and temperament, and believe he will come back stronger.

The way Pujara played in South Africa against the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel is a proof of plenty of his capabilities. But he has failed to back that up with very poor series' in New Zealand, Australia and England. His away average of 29.40 is nowhere near good enough, especially for someone who bats at 3. It's not that he has looked completely out of sorts, but he has failed to convert starts. Had either of the half centuries he scored early on in the series, in England and Australia, had been converted to a big score, things might have turned out different. For someone who built his reputation with massive hundreds in the domestic game, along with providing ample evidence on the international stage, it's just not good enough. 

The most glaring problem is the lack of assured footwork against the spinners. It's neither forward nor back. The whippy pull of the back foot of which he scores heavily against the spinners in home conditions have simply disappeared. You would assume the shot can be played with much more ease in bouncy conditions like Australia. It is also a very fair indication of the state of his mind and the confidence that he has in his footwork and his overall game at the moment. Simply put, Moeen Ali and Nathan Lyon shouldn't have had as much success as they have against Pujara.

Nathan Lyon has worked him over twice in Australia. Three other dismissals in which he has been caught fishing outside off, undone by the extra bounce. And the other one in which he was beautifully set up by Mitchell Johnson before delivering a leg cutter that castled his stumps. That's not the Pujara we know. Although temporary, the move down the order for the third test was the right solution. But for reasons beyond comprehension, he was dropped for Sydney test with Raina taking his spot. Hope the selectors have learnt a little lesson there after Raina's pair. You pick a "Grade A" player like Raina in the squad, there is immense pressure on the captain to give him game time. Pujara simply had to play. 

Pujara being a test specialist doesn't play enough international cricket as his team mates do. While he will pile on runs in India, he should be playing county cricket regularly. Even if this means him missing the IPL. He had a decent season at Derbyshire post-IPL, but this time around he should play from the start. The BCCI should work out a way to send emerging players to counties, albeit for just one or two seasons, to allow them improve and sort out their game for the longer formats.

His confidence must be low at the moment, but knowing Pujara's old fashioned values and work ethic, he should be at the nets as you read this and be back among the runs in no time. And with the next major away series in South Africa not until 2017-2018, there is plenty of time for Pujara. 

The Rahul's and Rohit's will be circling around hoping to cash in on even the slightest slip up. But they are no Che, are they? 

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Karthik is deeply passionate about sport and has always wanted to be a sports professional. And he ...

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