Tuesday , April 09, 2013 at 08 : 14
What happened in this year's NKP Salve Challengers Trophy? Who was the highest run-getter? More importantly, what does a good outing in one of India's premier 50-over competitions mean for a batsman? Well, it means nothing if you are Cheteshwar Pujara.
A tally of 361 runs in three innings with two centuries and one fifty. Pujara was not out twice finishing with an average of 361, but above all of this, his strike-rate of 107 underlined his comfort with the short format of the game. Yet the selectors feel Pujara is not ODI material.
Pujara's exclusion from the 30-man probable list for the ICC Champions Trophy fails isn't convincing, especially keeping in mind that the competition is happening in England. This is a venue where not so long ago the Indian selectors called back Rahul Dravid in what looked like a desperate measure after India's terrible outing in the Test series. Dravid was inducted back into the limited overs side after almost two years. The shock recall by the then selectors smacked of panic and was disrespectful to the Indian legend. It's a different matter that this is a new selection committee that is now being indifferent with Pujara's exclusion.
At a time when the selectors have awarded quite a few uncapped players - Unmukt Chand, Siddharth Kaul, Jalaj Saxena, Ishwar Pandey, Parvez Rasool - in the 30-man list, what could possibly be the reason behind Pujara's exclusion? Not finding a place in the final 15 is still understandable but being kept out of the probables will do nothing for his confidence. This can only mean that Pujara is not seen as an ODI prospect and the selectors are looking beyond him. His exclusion comes across as unfair and uncalled for.
Speculation without much foundation will always do the rounds. That's because the selectors have never really conveyed their reason behind any inclusion or exclusion. So Pujara getting the royal ignore, not surprisingly raises some questions. Are the selectors convinced, Pujara is only a conventional, compact Test batsman? Were there issues related to fitness that failed to convince the selectors? Are they not sure of his agility in the field due to his repeated knee problems? Or is it because Pujara will be leading India A to South Africa? The last option would undoubtedly be the most bizarre reason ever.
Whatever be the case, it is of prime importance that the selectors have a word with Pujara and take him into confidence. No cricketer likes to be left in a maze, that too after he has amazed all of us with his class and consistency at the domestic and international arena. Pujara has time again tried to convince every one of his adaptability and versatility across all formats. More importantly he has shown a great degree of ease in his run scoring ability.
Rewind back to an instance in the recently concluded Test series against Australia where Pujara's batting approach revealed his wide range of innovation. On day two of the Hyderabad Test, Pujara was keen to show everyone he has a game suited even for one day cricket, while Murali Vijay was eager to demonstrate that he had the temperament for Tests. By the end of the day both batsmen had contrasting figures exactly opposite to their batting style and reputation. While Vijay (for his unbeaten 129) batted for 288 deliveries at a strike rate of 44.79, Pujara had already scored 162 runs off only 251 deliveries at a strike rate of 64.54.
The number of balls consumed by both batsmen indicated their intent in the middle. While Vijay was all about crease occupation, application and patience, Pujara was more about tempo, momentum and approach. Pujara finally fell for 204 that included 30 fours and a six, at a healthy strike rate of 60. At a time when most cricketers are playing across all formats why is a batsman of Pujara's class being denied his due in ODIs? Is the administration being selfish in restricting a player for the benefit of the sport rather than the individual?
If so, it should apply to all and not just Pujara. Suresh Raina, who can be considered as short format specialist, is repeatedly kept in the mix for the Test format. Then why is Pujara being sidelined for ODIs? If the call of the hour is for players to be branded for specific formats, then this only means quite a few changes beckon Indian cricket.
This is an age old complaint. There is still no players association in India to speak on behalf of the cricketers. The BCCI and the selectors both need to show more accountability. Denying a player in form an opportunity is a colossal waste of talent and resources. Ajinkya Rahane too faced a similar situation. A great T20 debut, a decent ODI outing and then he was confined to the sidelines for 15 months. No reasoning, no explanation. All one could hear is that he would get his break and when his chance finally came, his form went on a vacation.
It deserves to be reiterated that young cricketers are ambitious and they need opportunities especially when they have worked hard to prove themselves. This selection committee has been impressive ever since they have taken over but this time they seem to have erred in their decision making. Nevertheless, let's hope Pujara is allowed to express himself and is given the opportunity to pass or fail. It would be shameful to fail any athlete without a chance in the middle.