As a young teenager, I was always fascinated by the No.4 in Test cricket.
Watching the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Kevin Pietersen, Jacques Kallis and the way they had an aura around the dressing room was like every upcoming batsman’s dream. So what makes these guys special?
Is it just because they have achieved the status of being the most decorated batsman of the team? Or is it their dynamic and versatile style of batting that perfectly moulds the top and middle-order batting together?
The answer is that it’s more than that. They have defined the batting of their generation – or, in some cases, the batting of the generations to follow – which is what makes them such a special breed. No wonder they are role models for budding cricketers.
However, if you look at India’s current No.3, No.4 and No.5, there is a weird pattern not only in the stats but also in the way they express themselves out in the middle.
Remember the theory from the film Moneyball that says you can create a big player by combining two or three lesser players? It’s a nice idea, but even if you combine Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, the batsmen on either side of Virat Kohli, more often than not you still fall way short of Kohli.
It’s hard to figure out what that one specific factor is that separates Kohli from the rest of the pack, but what keeps me wondering is where he gets the energy and hunger to go in, day in and day out, to perform to the best of his abilities.
You know what’s the most fascinating part of it? It’s not just limited to Test cricket; he’s currently the best one-day batsman, perhaps across generations and he is captain of both the Tests and the ODI sides – and we haven’t even spoken about his heroics in T20 and the Indian Premier League.
It could be sheer hard work, dedication, tremendous willpower or other external personal factors – or indeed a combination of all of these – that have moulded him into the beast of a player that he has become.
(Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)
If you turn your attention to Kohli’s neighbours in India’s Test batting line up, you come across two mentally tough players in Pujara and Rahane. In terms of pure talent they are equal to Virat Kohli – indeed Rahane might just be more gifted than Kohli – and their overall nature and style of batting falls much in-tune with the Test format. In spite of all this, Pujara and Rahane both find themselves a million miles apart from their captain, at least statistically.
It’s interesting to analyze why so is the case. In the case of Rahane, he is one among the very few batsmen whose away performance is actually significantly better than his performance at home. If you look at all of his memorable innings, most of them have come at a time when his team needed him most under tough conditions.
However, despite all of this, when you look at Rahane’s career graph and scores you come across a pattern that’s far stretched now. He gets a lot of starts and often 70s and 80s in his first innings, but he struggles to just 30s and 40s in the second innings. He isn’t able to convert his starts into significant scores, which definitely hampers his team’s ability to put big runs on the board.
Of course not everyone can be a Kohli or Tendulkar, but if you see Kohli’s attitude while he is at the crease, he never seems to be satisfied with the runs he has got; he always seems to have that hunger to keep scoring more and more, and that is exactly what Rahane lacks. Rahane, if he has got 80 or 100 runs, seems to be satisfied with – there is a lack of hunger to score more.
He suffers from being satisfied with less. For Rahane to give full justice to his immense potential and help India pile on big runs by putting up hundreds and what we call daddy hundreds, he can take a leaf out of his captain’s book, at least attitude-wise.
As far as Pujara is concerned, we thought about him as the next wall, didn’t we? He certainly has a watertight defence and solid temperament, but his inconsistent form is a roadblock which sooner or later will need to be taken care of. His streak of inconsistent performances in the past were also far too stretched, which put a lot of pressure on Virat Kohli and India’s middle order as a result.
Cheteshwar Pujara is a No.3 batsman whose batting average overseas is significantly lower than both his average at home and his overall batting average. You don’t want that as a batting unit. Just going by the numbers, Pujara, before this Australia series, managed to score just two 50s and one ton in seven away Tests this year, and that is a really frustrating number if you’re a fan of his.
(AP Photo/James Elsby)
If you try to analyse the trio of Kohli, Rahane and Pujara, the latter two’s international cricket workload is far reduced compared to that of their captain, yet despite this they’re not able to live up to their potentials, which should be of great concern for Indian cricket.
To add to it, they predominantly play Test cricket or first-class cricket, so they don’t have to worry about changing the batting styles that comes along with jumping from one format to another.
While Rahane has been with India’s Test team for over five and half years now, Pujara made his Test debut for India even before Kohli, yet one is still unable to put up big scores and the other remains inconsistent.
With India’s pace quartet or spin trio being able to pick 20 opposition wickets more consistently than ever before irrespective of conditions, it’s imperative India get their batting measured right, and for that to happen, it’s time for the likes of Pujara and Rahane to step up to the challenge and ably support their captain.