Mumbai: Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli’s wretched form in England has again exposed India’s failure to fill the huge void left in the batting line-up when Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar retired.
Dravid, India’s formidable number three batsman, ended his career in January 2012 after scoring 13,288 runs in 164 tests, with many of those coming in tricky overseas conditions.
Run-machine Tendulkar bid farewell last November after a career spanning 24 years, during which he played 200 tests for India and scored close to 16,000 runs in the longest format. The lack of a succession plan was bemoaned as the ageing batsmen reached the twilight of their careers during a horrid spell for the team away from home, when they lost eight tests in a row in England and Australia.
India had not won a test match outside the country since 2011 when they set foot on English soil and after the thumping losses in Southampton and Manchester, last month’s stirring win at Lord’s appears to stand out as a flash in the pan.
Pujara, who bats at the number three spot left vacant by Dravid, had been impressive with his technique and temperament when India play at home and also during the 1-0 series loss in South Africa last year.
The flamboyant Kohli, who took Tendulkar’s number four position, had been marked out as India’s next great batsman – a reputation underlined by his consistency in the last two years at home and on the tours of South Africa and New Zealand.
However, their collective failures against the moving ball in England has given rise to doubts about their class and ability and if they are the answer to India’s search for batting solidity in the absence of their retired heroes.
After batting eight times each in the first four tests, Pujara has an average of 25.87 with one half century while Kohli has dismal figures of a 13.50 average with a highest score of just 39.
India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni did not mince his words in finding where to lay the blame for one-sided defeats in the last two tests as England stormed 2-1 ahead with the final match to come at The Oval next week.
“What is important is to put runs on the board,” Dhoni said after the innings defeat at Old Trafford on Saturday. “To some extent, Lord’s and the performance of the eight, nine, 10 and 11 so far in the series camouflaged the question of the top order not performing. “But when you are playing with five bowlers, the fifth bowler actually has scored more runs for us. That actually puts pressure on, whatever the reason may be.
“Maybe a few of the batsmen are having a lean period at the same time. But overall, we will have to put more runs on the board so that the bowlers can get the opposition out.”
Pujara’s solid defence has suddenly started looking porous while England paceman James Anderson has found a walking wicket in Kohli, who has kept the slip cordon constantly interested with regular edges flying towards them.
But Dhoni, who himself has looked slack in his captaincy and with the gloves behind the stumps, sounded less than convincing as he grasped for excuses to defend his failing star batsmen.
“Consistently we are exposing Pujara in the second, third or fourth over and he might feel that he is better off opening the batting,” Dhoni said, targeting his top two batsmen for offering little or no protection against the new ball. Our openers haven’t given us good enough start and that has put a lot of pressure on Pujara coming in at number three, who has never felt settled. “Virat has had a lovely spell for two-and-a-half years and this is something that will happen in international cricket. But I am not really worried as he is middling the ball well.”