The Cheteshwar Pujara conundrum: No. 3 or No. 5




The first day of the fourth Test match between Australia and India in Sydney came as a reality check for cricket aficionados in the sub-continent. Cheteshwar Pujara, the apparent heir to Rahul Dravid, was omitted from the playing XI, leaving some shocked and wondering whether the Saurashtra batsman was actually the real deal. The bigger question wrapped beneath all this is whether No. 3 is the right batting position for Pujara or is he better suited at five.

The Cheteshwar Pujara conundrum: No. 3 or No. 5

The Cheteshwar Pujara conundrum: No. 3 or No. 5

Pujara’s omission from the team was not surprising for those who have closely followed his batting from the 2014 England tour. As India’s number three, he was expected to lay down the anchor that would help the likes of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma to sail easily in the tough seas of Australia and England. Though Pujara has not been a downright failure (his last six innings being 21, 25, 43, 18, 21 and 73), his scores are not what you expect from your premier batsman. Also, more than scoring runs, the main job of a number three is to protect the middle order from being exposed too early by soaking up the pressure, something Pujara has not done.

One thing that has been ascertained from the tours of England and Australia is that Pujara’s technique is not flawless. Quite visibly, he has a difficulty in playing the ball that comes into the right hander and is not as adept as a Kohli or Rahane at playing square batted shots. However, another thing that Duncan Fletcher, Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri need to contemplate is Pujara better at No. 3 or No. 5?

Pujara’s abilities far outweigh his disabilities and things like commitment, temperament, vision and aptitude for Test cricket are taken for granted. Therefore, Pujara, sooner or later, will be back in the team but his right batting position seems to be down the order at number five or six. Facing the second new ball is relatively easier in most cases and Pujara is the ideal batsman to protect the tail, which, literally, does not exist at the moment.

Despite the fact that Ajinkya Rahane is blossoming at No. 5, he can surely bat up the order at three to exchange positions with Pujara. Rahane is quite adept at playing the new ball and has a near-perfect technique, which is a quintessential requirement for Rahul Dravid’s successor. Surely some adjustments would need to be made but Pujara’s accommodation in the batting line-up is something the Indian team cannot miss out.

If one comes to think of it, Pujara’s demeanour and rarity have preceded him, leading to assumptions from everyone, maybe even himself. India’s desperation to find a successor to Rahul Dravid has probably cost Pujara his place in the side and maybe he is better suited for a different role. The gritty right hander is an aberration and has the right ingredients to become a top class Test batsman but maybe as the next VVS Laxman, not Rahul Dravid.

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