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Why it’s time Team India move on from Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane

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The fallout from India’s Test series defeat in South Africa was quite significant, with Virat Kohli, arguably India’s greatest ever Test captain, resigning from the role as skipper.

It was certainly not the ending that India fans hoped for, with the recent series against South Africa their best chance in years to register their first ever triumph in the nation. After superb performances in Australia and England since the backend of 2018, most backed India to produce the goods against a South Africa side in transition.

Instead, India’s quest to be mentioned alongside some of Test cricket’s greatest teams will have to wait a little longer.

A key reason for the series loss was the batting. Both at Johannesburg and Cape Town did India have the chance to grab the game by the scruff of the neck in the third innings, but poor batting kept the door well and truly open for South Africa, who obliged with consecutive seven-wicket victories.

After all, what can you expect with two experienced players so out of form in a short batting lineup consisting of just six batsman and a keeper-batsman? Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, two players who have served India so well, struggled yet again. South Africa’s Keegan Petersen, who only has a handful of Tests under his belt, showed up two of India’s stalwarts courtesy of a measured, confident and clear approach to his batting.

Despite India’s much-improved pace bowling over the past seven years, Pujara and Rahane’s lack of form, coupled with Virat Kohli’s century drought, often keeps the door open for the opposition.

And the numbers back that argument up. Since 2020, both Pujara and Rahane are averaging just above 20. Go back to 2018, and the averages are a little over 30. In one way, India can be commended for persisting with two stalwarts, giving them a longer rope courtesy of their contributions over the years. However, such returns over an extended period of time are to the detriment of the team.

So, where do India go from here regarding those two? Should they drop them both? The fact that Pujara faces over 40 balls more per innings than Rahane since 2020 suggests that the latter’s spot is at greater risk, despite both on the verge of missing out on a central contact.

And rightly so. India are blessed with batting talent, with Shreyas Iyer and Hanuma Vihari two immediate contenders for that number five position. Vihari has fought hard in his Test career so far, with his century on a tricky pitch in West Indies and wonderful reguard action whilst injured at ths SCG clear evidence of this. Iyer himself has a Test century already, boasting a First Class average of 52.10.

The selectors need to consider that even if Pujara and Rahane turn their fortunes around, does that really benefit India in the long term? Both are 33, and probably have a year or two of good form in them at the very most.

To reclaim that number one Test ranking and get their World Test Championship back on track, the Indian selectors will need to make some big calls. With a home series against Sri Lanka coming up in February, it is the perfect opportunity for the selectors to introduce fresh talent in the side to give them a taste of Test cricket.

India should win that series comfortably, so it is a good chance to begin building for the future and become a more complete Test unit.

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