We won the two-test series against New Zealand because Virat Kohli put big runs on the board. We won the Ahmedabad test because Cheteshwar Pujara scored a double ton. We lost in Mumbai because Pujara got no support for his ton in the first innings, and both Pujara and Kohli failed in the second innings. In Kolkata, it’s the same story: without runs from Pujara and Kohli, it seems, we are doomed. Would it not be better then to have another Pujara and Kohli in the middle order, rather than has-beens like Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh?
Tendulkar did end his run drought in Kolkata with a 76, but even that one time he got past 50 in seven Test matches, he wasn’t able to carry on and make it count, like Pujara did in Ahmedabad or Alastair Cook has been doing for England. The number four is vital in a Test batting lineup because that’s the batsman who is protected from the new ball, and then has enough batsmen following him to help him build a big innings. Ricky Ponting failed to do justice to the position after moving down to number 4 from his customary number 3, and that was a key factor in Australia losing a home series to South Africa. India is paying a similar price for sticking with Tendulkar.
The other liability in the middle order is Yuvraj Singh. His one-day exploits and comeback from cancer make him endearing, but doesn’t change the fact that the time for him to be groomed for Tests was a few years back, not now.
Today there are players like Ajinkya Rahane and Manoj Tiwary scoring tons of runs on the domestic circuit.
This is not hindsight. We said in this column before the Kolkata Test that the selectors were wrong not to make any change to the batting that failed in Mumbai. We pointed out that the Bengal captain Tiwary knew the Eden Gardens wicket like the back of his hand, and England would have hated bowling at another Pujara who had a 99.5 average one domestic season.
The selectors claimed they did not want a panic reaction, but the truth is they didn’t have the courage to ask Tendulkar to go, or admit they were hasty in recalling Yuvraj after his illness. But at least now, after two huge back-to-back defeats in home conditions, they can complete the process that began with the easing out of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman following the whitewashes in England and Australia. Even if the replacements are not an instant success, the way Kohli and Tiwary were, we will be building a team for the future.
The openers Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag have been struggling too, but those are difficult positions to bat in. The bowlers haven’t covered themselves in glory either, but they were bowling on a batting Eden as tailender Ravichander Ashwin showed in the Indian second innings with an unbeaten 83. It’s the middle order that has failed India the most.