Much before MS Dhoni, there was Michael Bevan, possibly the shrewdest finisher in the one-day game. In spite of a one-day average in excess of 50, he played only 18 Tests. Raina too has played only 18 Tests. Both Bevan and Raina had their demons, mostly with the short ball.
Ravi Shastri says a lot, often in or to the media. Take away the booming voice and you still have some booming comments in print.
“I am pleased to see Cheteshwar Pujara in the ODI squad. Regardless of whatever people say about his fielding etc., I think he has a role to play as a batsman. He will only strengthen the top-order. He could do the job for the team where one has to bat for long periods. By no stretch of imagination is he someone who can just grind the attack. He can be a totally different player in the one-day game. I believe that he is going to be one of our mainstays in the forthcoming World Cup.” – Ravi Shastri, February 25, 2014.
Later, in June, Pujara played 3 one-dayers against Bangladesh with scores of 0, 11 and 27. In all, he’s played 5 with a shy average of 10.2. Before Shastri’s comment, Pujara had played 2 games against Zimbabwe with scores of 0 and 13.
He did not make India’s World Cup list of 30 probables. He has played twice under Kohli and thrice under Raina but never under Dhoni’s captaincy in an ODI.
So what made Shastri think Pujara was a certainty for the World Cup? Pujara’s List A Average is 54 with 10 centuries, a highest of 158*. I doubt though he was going entirely if at all by those numbers.
Before 2014, Pujara’s Test strike rate in the 50s was higher than Kohli, Vijay and Rohit, this in spite of the perception of a slow scorer, because unlike the others, he wasn’t an IPL or ODI regular. More often than not his first scoring shot was a flick off middle to the square leg boundary.
Shastri’s comment was soon after a poor New Zealand series, where Pujara failed to score a half century in four innings.
But it was barely 2 months after a 2nd innings’ 153 against Steyn, Morkel and Philander at the Wanderers.
This was Pujara’s 6th ton, Kohli had 5 at that point. His Test average was in the 50s, Kohli’s wasn’t even 40.
Pujara was arguably India’s best Test batsman then – and there was a temptation to master all formats, he opened for KXIP though barely striking at a run a ball. The desire to turn up for India in one-dayers, particularly the World Cup was deep.
More recently Shastri, in the capacity of Team Director said it was his endeavour to see Suresh Raina in the Test team.
“The more I see him play, he is brilliant to watch. It will be my endeavour really to do something that will get him back into the Indian Test match team. He is a class act. When is going he is a treat to watch. Even at times when I see him bat at the nets, when the ball hits the bat, just that sound or sense of timing you know it is something different. Let’s hope, fingers crossed. – Ravi Shastri, October 6, 2014”
In over 9 years, Raina has played over 200 one dayers, but in close to five years, he’s wangled less than 20 Tests.
Not too long ago, Raina was dropped from the ODI team but returned as skipper in the absence of Dhoni and Kohli. Since then, a century in England, only his 4th, but 3 swinging 50s against a clueless West Indies. After seeking Ganguly’s advice, he also appeared to have made peace with his old foe, the short delivery.
And not just Shastri, Ganguly too was talking up Raina.
Raina found himself on the flight to Australia. It’s now part of urban legend that Raina’s last three scores are no scores – a pair in the Sydney Test, preceded by a duck in 2012.
Worse, in his last seven innings, Raina has failed to score in five.
Regardless of what Shastri may have said about Rohit Sharma or Shikhar Dhawan, it’s obvious they’re at odds with one format. As too is Murali Vijay, who on the back of his recent Test form found himself in the List of 30 probables for the World Cup.
Omission from the World Cup squad must have hurt Vijay – leaving the ball, match after match, series after overseas’ series, Vijay fell for a three ball duck – the fewest deliveries he had faced in the last four Test series. It was an uncharacteristically loose shot from Vijay, going for a big, booming cover drive, that too so early in his innings.
It’s premature to say whether Raina, Dhawan or Rohit’s Test failings will affect their one day game, but they will carry some baggage. How much they drop at check in, how much they keep as carry-on, will determine how far India goes in the World Cup.
Never too late for Indian cricket to learn, not every player can crack every format.
Not every player is Ravi Shastri, or as he says -
“He’s aggressive and he’s very young, so the exuberance is still seen in him, which is very good for the team. And I see a bit of myself in him” – Ravi Shastri on Virat Kohli, November, 2014