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Pujara axed: Scapegoat for WTC failure or stepping stone of team transition

BCCI announced Test and ODI squads for India's West Indies tour on June 23, 2023. The Test squad did not feature Chetewshwar Pujara and Umesh Yadav from the team that played the WTC final

Cheteshwar Pujara

Cheteshwar Pujara. Photo: Sportzpics for BCCI

Abhishek Singh New Delhi
Cheteshwar Pujara’s international career looks to be in the doldrums again as he has been dropped from India’s Test side. In the latest announcement by BCCI, the 35-year-old found no mention in the Test squad that will tour West Indies to begin India’s campaign for 2023-25 World Test Championship.

Pujara, who scored 14 and 27 in the two innings of the World Test Championship final against Australia, posted a video of his batting practice, right after his omission. The India number three has so far played 103 Tests and scored 7,195 runs in them at an average of 43.60. 

Former greats like Sunil Gavaskar and Harbhajan Singh have blasted the board for not treating someone of the stature of Pujara fairly. Gavaskar even went on to say that Pujara has been made the scapegoat for India’s collective batting failure in the WTC Final. 

“Why has he been made the scapegoat for our batting failures? He has been a loyal servant of Indian cricket, a quiet and able achiever. But because he doesn't have millions of followers on whatever platforms who would make a noise in case he gets dropped, you drop him?,” asked a visibly upset Gavaskar during a TV interaction. Why Gavaskar calls him the scapegoat can be understood from the following points 

Comparison of Pujara’s stats with Kohli and Rohit 

The reason given by former India skipper Gavaskar for Pujara being made the scapegoat was that he has failed, but so have others. In reality, his statement holds true because, in the time span from the last World Test Championship final (2021) to this one, the difference in the batting averages or run-scoring hasn’t really been much between the three most experienced batters in the Indian Test team. 

Virat Kohli scored 932 at an average of only 32.13 thanks to his 186 against Australia in the Ahmedabad Test which ended in a draw. In the same period, Pujara scored 927 runs at an average of 31.96 and he had one hundred to his name as well, against Bangladesh, in a winning cause. Rohit Sharma though played lesser innings than Pujara and Kohli in this period. He scored 758 runs at an average of 42.11. 

Thus, the difference is not very much between the three, but only Pujara has gotten the axe. Is Gavaskar right in his assessment that because Pujara only plays Tests and doesn’t have enough followers across social media, selectors have found him as the easy target and scapegoat?

Back-to-back WTC final failures 

Another reason for Pujara’s axing could be the fact that before the two WTC finals, he was the only Indian playing and practising in England, and yet he failed. It is being taken into account that despite scoring heavily in the county circuit prior to WTC finals, Pujara gets bogged down and under pressure in the final and fails to perform and is hence being replaced. 

A team in transition: Pujara is only the first departure, more to follow

It is hard to know the reason for Pujara’s axing, more so because nowadays selectors don’t face the media for questions on their team selection. There are only guesses and sources left to come to any conclusion on BCCI decisions. The biggest explainer for Pujara’s axing is that the Indian team is now transitioning. 

It's the second phase of transition after the big four (Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid and Laxman) departed in the period of 2011-2013. Thus, to facilitate the transition, Pujara has been replaced by Yashasvi Jaiswal. Ruturaj Gaikwad is in the squad too and is going to be the replacement for Rohit when the time comes. BCCI doesn't hurry things. With Shreyas Iyer fit and ready to go, he would most likely replace Ajinkya Rahane, as he has done in the past. Shubman Gill will most likely bat at number four after Kohli is gone. That's the plan. 

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First Published: Jun 25 2023 | 2:31 PM IST

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