Sunil Gavaskar defends Cheteshwar Pujara – 'Why make him the scapegoat for our batting failures?’

„I simply don’t understand, what is the criteria for taking him down and keeping the others who have failed?”

Shashank Kishore

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Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar believes Cheteshwar Pujara has been made a „scapegoat” for India’s batting failures, most recently in the 209-run loss to Australia in the World Test Championship final.

Pujara was the only one left out of the main squad for the Test series against the West Indies. With the new WTC cycle beginning with a two-Test tour of the Caribbean in July, the SS Das-led selection committee has named Yashvi Jaiswal and Rudharaj Gaekwad in the 17-man squad. Unless Shubman Gill drops a spot, India will debut at No.3.

„Why was he dropped? Why was he made the scapegoat for our batting failures? He was a loyal servant of Indian cricket,” Gavaskar said. India Today. „But since he doesn’t have millions of followers on the platforms, he will make noise if he is dropped, so you let him go. That is beyond my understanding. What is the criteria for dropping him and keeping others who have failed? Now-a-days, there is no media contact with the head of the selection committee, where can you ask these questions. I do not know.”

Pujara scored 14 and 27 at the Oval. Overall, in the 2021-23 WTC cycle, he India’s second highest run-scorer He scored 928 runs in 32 innings with a century and 6 fifties at an average of 32. Virat Kohli tops the list but he has been marginally better – 932 runs at 32.13 in 30 innings with a century and three half-centuries.

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Gavaskar believes that Pujara can give Indian cricket another year or two, but the road back to the Indian team will be tough, especially if India’s injured regulars Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer return. For now, Ajinkya Rahane, the top scorer in the WTC final, has been named as the vice-captain to Rohit Sharma.

Gavaskar – „Apart from Rahane, the batting was a total failure. Why Pujara fell is something the selectors have to explain.” AFP/Getty Images

„He’s been playing county cricket. So, he’s played a lot of red-ball cricket, so he knows what it’s like,” Gavaskar said when asked about Pujara. „Today, people can play till they are 39-40. There is nothing wrong, they are all very fit; as long as you are taking runs and wickets, I don’t think age should be a factor. Clearly there was only one man who failed and the others were isolated.

Gavaskar questioned the value of the Ranji Trophy, especially after Sarbaraz Khan’s dismissal. The 25-year-old has racked up runs in the last three seasons, with his first-class average (79.65) second only to Sir Don Bradman’s among batsmen who have played at least 50 innings. However, Sarfaraz had a modest IPL in 2023 and was not a regular opener for Delhi Capitals, leading Gavaskar to wonder if the IPL was a hindrance to his selection.

„You do well in the IPL and you get picked even in Test cricket. That seems to be the case,” Gavaskar said. “Looking at the team selection, there are four openers for the two Tests, not the old pace West Indies attack where you needed six openers.

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„Sarbaraz Khan has averaged 100 runs in the last three seasons. What does he have to do to get selected? [Test] team? He may not be in the XI, but you pick him in the team. Say that his performance is recognized. Otherwise, stop playing Ranji Trophy. Say, it’s no use, you’re playing IPL and you think you’re good enough for the red-ball game too.

Shashank Kishore is Senior Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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