A file photo of India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara. (BCCI)
Think of the current crop of Indian players. Think of them in the context of Test cricket for the next five years. Start counting today. How many make it to your thumb hopping on fingers? Just two, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli. And still there are teeth cringing and fists clenching over Pujara's exclusion from an ODI tournament on its last legs.
Not a brow moved over not seeing Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh in that list, but the list was read, re-read and read again to find Virender Sehwag and Pujara's name in the 30-man list for the ICC Champions Trophy in England this June. And while Pujara's exclusion had most frowning, Sehwag's absence from that list added fuel to the fire of speculation. Is this it for Sehwag or is he injured? Has he been dropped or made himself unavailable? Why no Pujara? Just one line from the BCCI would have hushed all, but they chose to keep pursed lips. Hence, the speculation increased.
There have been comparisons drawn between Sehwag, Harbhajan and Zaheer; that they have given their best and that there was no point putting them among the probables if the BCCI is looking beyond them. Most of that holds true for Harbhajan and Zaheer, but maybe not for Sehwag, not just yet. Harbhajan has been given opportunities to prove that he's still there. Sadly, he failed every time. Zaheer was never a great athlete. Broke down, recovered, but only to break down again.
But when you don't have the Tendulkars, Dravids, Laxmans and Gangulys around, somebody like Sehwag's presence in the dressing room is needed, especially when you see most of the stalwarts who have quit were batsmen. Yes, Sehwag needs to put his ego on the table, score runs and lead by example. But don't mistake him not doing that right now for he can't do that now. He has been a bit hard done by, by the BCCI.
Pujara's case is in a different court altogether. He is India's biggest hope to carry the flag home and away. He has passed the home Test and is primed for one away. For India, right now he is the sanctum sanctorum - the holy of holies. He is expected to be India's run-monger in South Africa. Credit to the BCCI for realising that and keeping him unscathed from the rigors of limited-overs cricket. Surely that's the reason to exclude him. Nothing to frown about it, understand it.