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Che Pujara undervalued? Rohit Sharma overvalued?

by Gaurav Sethi

On 17th July, 2014, Cheteshwar Pujara made a gritty 28. India had been put in on a seaming Lord's wicket, Dhawan had fallen early, Pujara walked in in the third over. He battled for nine minutes shy of three hours, negating England's new ball and the heady morning conditions. Before him, Murali Vijay and Virat Kohli had fallen. It was on top of Pujara's hermitage that Rahane built his palatial hundred. In the second innings, Pujara added 43, digging in for two hours. Kohli was there for a blink of an eye. India won Lord's but I recall only Mike Atherton acknowledging the weight of Pujara's 28 in the post-match while speaking to Dhoni. India lost the series 3-1.

Virat Kohli went on to have the well documented tour from hell: 1, 8, 25, 0, 39, 28, 0, 7, 6, 20. Pujara in the vicinity of hell: 38, 55, 28, 43, 24, 2, 0, 17, 4, 11. At the start of the series, as at the end, both Kohli and Pujara were tied at six centuries. Pujara batted for 12 hours for his 222 runs in England, Kohli close to seven hours for his 125 runs. Rohit Sharma played just one Test, rediscovering his happy knack of getting out when set.

The Test series in Australia is where Kohli tore away from Pujara and the pack: he added four more to his century's tally, Pujara, none. And even though India failed to win a Test, the emphasis was on brave cricket which it sure was. Pujara had a forgettable tour, a high of 73, followed by five starts that he failed to convert. In spite of that he occupied the crease: his briefest outing was 67 minutes. In six innings, he was in the middle for over 11 hours. Pujara fell prey to his own high standards, he was dropped for the fourth Test. Of all people, Suresh Raina took his place. A golden pair followed, falling outside off in both innings. He lasted four deliveries, eight minutes.

Raina has played 15 Tests in a career that threatened to begin in 2010. His claim to a Test spot is no different to that of Rohit's or Yuvraj's – One-Day specialists being shoehorned into the Test side.

Yuvraj made his Test debut in 2003, in close to 12 years, he played 40 matches, a career built on recalls. None to different from Raina, who has already wangled 18 matches in close to five years. Early days for Rohit, who's now played 11 Tests in close to two years. Yuvraj, Raina and Rohit are either ODI or IPL wonderboys with an entitlement to represent India in all formats. Their four overs of merriment gain far more eyeballs than Pujara's painstaking three hour vigil at Lord's. Raina last made a comeback to skipper India in Bangladesh - It wasn't on the back of either form or runs, more to do with past credentials, right?

In November 2013, Rohit blasted two Test centuries during Tendulkar's farewell series against an Invitation XI from the West Indies. A series when not just Rohit even Mohammad Shami staked his claim as a Test batsman. Following those home Tests, Rohit has toured South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia. In these 15 innings, he's accumulated two half centuries and six single digit scores – three each of six* and zero. Rohit may not get as many chances to fail and then succeed in Tests as he has in ODIs, but he will continue to be given a rope longer than most.

Both Director of Cricket and Test captain are huge admirers of his game, and don't miss a beat to extol the virtues of his batting talent. For Shastri, in many ways, Rohit is the son he never had, for Kohli, he's a mate, in whom he sees his Indian team blazing away in the next few years.

Both Rohit and Pujara played three Tests down under scoring 173 and 201 runs respectively. What appears to have been an ordinary series for Pujara, seems to be the start of something big for Rohit. He was retained as India's number three for the lone Bangladesh Test.

As the new Test captain, Kohli has repeatedly emphasised the need to score quickly. In Rohit, who strikes at 51.51 in Tests and Kohli at 53.08 (compared to Pujara's 49.25) is the new attacking India. While they're at it, why not pick Raina too – he strikes at 53.14. All these bloated perceptions are often based on the players' ODI and IPL records – seldom do they have much bearing on how a player transplants to Test cricket. Few would know that before Pujara's lean patch in England and Australia, he had a much better Test strike rate than both Kohli and Rohit.

It's doubtful Pujara will be allowed to adapt his game to the shorter format; in spite of his excellent List A numbers he never took to ODIs – five games, 51 runs, goodbye. Not everyone is as lucky as Rohit Sharma. Looks like Pujara might have to resign himself to the number three spot in overseas conditions. If that's the case, a hundred at Leeds for Yorkshire is a step in the right direction.

*On June 12, 2015, Rohit made his fourth score of six

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