The Indian cricket team has gone through a reality check in the ongoing South Africa tour after back to back crushing defeats against the Proteas.
Even though Indian captain Virat Kohli found back his form in the first innings of the second test with his 21st Test Century, his team selection has been highly criticized by many followers of the game. If the exclusion of Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the second test, even after being the most successful bowler in the first game, wasn’t enough, the repeated exclusion of Ajinkya Rahane has been one of the biggest talking points.
Compared to the other Indian middle order batsmen like Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara and even captain Virat Kohli, Rahane has the better average in tests away from home. In 23 test matches, the Mumbai man has scored 1817 runs at an average of 53.44. With 6 centuries and 9 half centuries, Rahane’s highest away score came against the mighty Aussies at the MCG. Surprisingly he has played more tests abroad than at home and his record is also much better away from home.
Cheteshwar Pujara has been one of the star performers for India in tests at number 3. The man with 14 centuries has an extraordinary 62+ average at home, while that deteriorates drastically abroad. What is surprising is that out of his 14 centuries 10 have come on home soil, and 3 out of his 4 away centuries have come in subcontinental conditions.
Much like Rahane, Rohit has played more tests away from home than at home. A champion in limited overs cricket, the Mumbai batsman have never been too much of a success in the longest format. The only man in history with 3 ODI double centuries have never gone beyond the mark in tests. Two of his 3 test centuries came against a very weak West Indies side during his first two test matches. After returning to the test side against the Lankans in the preparatory series to the South Africa tour, he scored his 3rd test hundred. Having played 15 matches away from home, he only averages 25.
Even during the first two test defeats in the current tour, the duo of Rohit and Pujara have failed to impress. While former scored sum total of 78 runs in 4 innings, the later could manage only 49.
After the batting disaster in both tests from the Indian team, the question has risen that whether the failed duo should be dropped in the final test.
If the question of dropping one of the two arises, Pujara seemingly looks more vulnerable to Rohit to face the axe, based on their current form. Even in the current tour the Mumbaikar has scored more.
Going through the history of the past few years, Indian test team without Cheteshwar Pujara only happens if the Saurashtra man is injured. Fail or succeed, he has made the number 3 position his own in the Indian team. There is also the problem of not having a good enough replacement to cover his position in the current team. So dropping Pujara, although looks forthcoming judging from his current form, is very unlikely to say the least.
One more point to be noted is that India play their last test at The Wanderers, the venue where Pujara had scored his solitary century outside the subcontinent.
Rohit on the other hand has never been a regular for India when playing in whites. He was only included in the first XI ahead of Rahane, based on his good form against Sri Lanka in the home series. But as it has been quite evident time and again Rohit Sharma is not as technically sound against a top pace bowling attack on a bouncy pitch. It was even evident in the ODI against Sri Lanka at Mohali.
Moreover, it is safe to say that Rahane’s technique against pace bowling is quite commendable and he has proved his worth with centuries at Lord’s, MCG and Wellington. Rahane is also a natural at number 4 or number 5 position in tests. So, including Rahane ahead of Rohit Sharma will not be a bad decision from the Indian team management.
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