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Kesavan, Che, Rohit and short shrifts

by Homer

In his essay on the ESPN Cricinfo website, Mukul Kesavan observes

"It is a truth increasingly acknowledged that a young man possessed of an ODI berth stands a better chance of holding down a Test match place than a young man without one. Pujara doesn't play limited-overs cricket in any format for India and hasn't been able to find an IPL franchise that wants him. Rohit, in contrast, is a lion in Lilliput: the shorter the format, the better he gets. This counts against Pujara because while Rohit and others like him are constantly in the public eye because of the modern cricketing calendar, he is out of sight and mainly out of mind except when Test cricket looms on the horizon."
Before the Bangladesh tour, his first full tour as captain, Virat Kohli vocalized the following thought

“I certainly believe in giving the team a chance to pick up 20 wickets. I am a big fan of playing five bowlers in a 6-5 combination. You only need two to three batsmen to click to get a score of 500,” 

5 bowlers give the team the variety, on any surface, to prise out 20 wickets.5 bowlers also give the captain of having a fall back option should anyone of his bowlers go off the boil during any session in the course of an fielding innings.

This though comes with the caveat that the team will go one batsman short. And in the absence of a genuine bowling allrounder of pedigree, and out of their comfort zone of playing 6 batsmen + MS Dhoni, India have played Harbhajan Singh and Stuart Binny, as cover.

This had had mixed results against Sri Lanka, and remains a work in progress.

The other part of the equation in having 5 bowlers is to give them enough time to get the 20 wickets. Enter left, Rohit Sharma.

We felt that if he gets going, even in a Test match, he can take away a session or two from the opposition. That could be the difference in us winning a Test match and getting close (but not close enough),” said Kohli.

 For a team fixated on the idea of winning, with the draw being an afterthought, time, especially time remaining in the game, becomes of foremost importance.

By scoring quickly, and scoring big, teams give themselves ample time to bowl the opposition out twice. (The flip side of this is of course that teams geared for speed are rarely if ever able to buckle down to play for the draw.)

India, for the better part of 20 years, hankered for the next Gavaskar. And to this end, any batsman, however remotely in the Gavaskar mold, was fast tracked. And when that failed, converted openers became vogue, to bolster the middle order.
Till Saurav Ganguly decided to move Virender Sehwag to open the innings,

Unlike that wait though, the replacement for Rahul Dravid emerged through the ranks during Dravid's playing days. Cheteshwar Pujara is everything Dravid was, and generates the same emotions in the Indian hoi polloi that many many "next Gavaskar"s did after his retirement.

But, given the team philosophy, does Cheteshwar Pujara necessarily fit the bill?

To go back to Mr Kesavan, I quote this passage from his excellent book "Men in White"

"The straight bat, the long innings of attrition or in defence, surviving the new ball, setting out your stall and playing forever, genuine slow bowlers wheeling their way through dozens of overs,none of these things will disappear from the game, but they are ceasing to define Test cricket, and as a result, the game is changing.It is rather like the decline of "serve and volley" tennis; it will not become extinct and there will always be the stray Stephen Edberg,  but where once first "serve and into the net" used to be the staple of the men's tour,now the game is defined by ground strokes. Modern racquets give baseliners such power that rushing the net has become a low percentage ploy.
It is not a coincidence that there are more results in Test matches of late. This is partly because batsmen carry their one-day idiom into the longer game, partly because their defensive techniques have deteriorated through neglect, partly as a result of much improved fielding ( and catches take, more run outs effected), partly because glory now decisively belongs to the swashbuckler and the solid anchor is likely to be seen as a stolid barnacle.Cricket, even Test cricket, is now played to force a result not to effect a successful holding action. The strategic draw is becoming obsolete".

Rohit Sharma may or may not be the answer to India's quest, but neither is Cheteshwar Pujara.

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