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By Sunil Gavaskar
Cheteshwar Pujara's, match winning knock in the first unofficial 'Test match' between the India A' team and the West Indies 'A team would have heartened the Indian selectors, as they look for a batsman to take the place of Rahul Dravid in the Indian Test line-up. Of course, nobody can really fill the big boots of Rahul Dravid on and off the field, but Pujara is one, who looks as if he has taken more than a leaf out of the Dravid book of batting.
Dravid's batting was characterized by the awareness of his responsibilities and the steely determination to achieve what the team wanted. Pujara shows a fair bit of that and but for injuries coming in the way of his career he could well have established himself in the Indian line-up ahead of others, who have nudged him at the moment.
That Indian cricket has two outstanding prospects like Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara is a real blessing, for in another year or so the middle order will have a totally different look from the ones that Indian cricket fans have been used to for more than a decade and half. Kohli brings a feisty attitude to batting, willing for a fight, looking for a challenge. He will celebrate his achievements with a flourish jumping up and pumping his arms, and even forget that there was another run to be taken as he did when he reached his first Test century. He won’t be shy to let the opposition know what he feels about them and so will make himself the target of their ire too. Pujara on the other hand will acknowledge his deeds in a shy almost self-effacing manner, much like the old school of cricket and carry on to another milestone. He will bring a calm to the arena and the dressing room and the bowlers in the team will know that they won’t have to change into their playing clothes in a hurry as long as he is at the crease.
Bowlers expect to play a four day match if the captain has won the toss and elected to bat first. On the first day they expect to be in shorts and lounge around, lie on the massage table and generally take it easy. The better batsman among them may just have to pad up towards the end of the days play as a night watchman for the star batsmen of the team, but in general they just expect a lazy day when the team opts to bat first. Pujara is just the kind of batsman, who will make them feel more relaxed.
The idea of having regular India A’ tours is a brilliant one, and while it is going to be in the off season for Indian cricket it will give the selectors some options and flexibility when they pick a Test squad. India must also look to have regular under 19 tours too and give the youngsters the international exposure, so that as they progress, they are better equipped to deal with the different conditions and culture of the cricket countries of the world.
While the middle order is the immediate concern of the selectors, the opening batting and new ball positions also need to be looked at. That is why Murali Vijay should have been included in the squad unless of course the current selection committee have given up on him. Vijay may not have had a great season, but anybody, who has a Test hundred and that too against the Australians, who do not give even one run easily, needs to be kept in mind all the time. Yes, he needs to work on his back-foot play, for he won’t get too many deliveries for the drive but any batsman, who has his timing and range of shots, should be kept in view all the time and not ignored. If Rohit Sharma also can translate his first class talent into the international arena the Indian batting would be among the most attractive to watch with the elegance of Vijay, the solidity of Pujara and natural left handed style of Gambhir and the class of Kohli and Sharma. It would be worth going miles to see this batting line-up just as it has been worth waking early or staying up late to watch the batting line-up that India has had for the last fifteen years.
The West Indians have finally sorted out the problems with Chris Gayle and he will be part of their one day line-up for the series against England. It is a pity that it was allowed to linger for so long, but there were quite clearly some in the establishment, who did not want Gayle to be part of the West Indian line-up. There were occasions especially during the IPL when it appeared that Gayle also was quite happy to smash everything before him rather than apply himself a bit more for the demands of Test cricket.
While the T20 competitions all over the world have given players the option to play for their country or ply their trade as pros elsewhere, the choice should be not the players alone. He cannot pick his opponents in Test or International cricket, like Samuels did opting to play part of IPL and miss the Test and ODI series against the Australians in the West Indies, but choose to be available for the Test and one-day series in England and miss the second half of IPL. It should be like what Pietersen and the Australians did and that is play the IPL when they were not needed by their countries, but as soon as the Tests arrived they left to play for their country. That has always got to be the priority and not pick and choose as Samuels did.
Yes, it is a different world out there now than earlier, but anybody who does not want to play for his country is not the role model that the game needs.