India will be embarking on the all-important tour to England in July. The tour will see India playing limited overs matches first in July and then play the five-match Test series in August.
Last time India went to England to play Tests was in 2014, under the leadership of MS Dhoni and despite getting a lead of 1-0 with two Tests in, squandered to lose the series 1-3. This time, however, Team India will be led by the more aggressive Virat Kohli and will feature set of players who have done well in the past few seasons.
Though the Indian team looks good on all fronts, they still have a slight problem on their hands when it comes to the number three spot in the batting lineup. The usual occupant of that position Cheteshwar Pujara has struggled a lot in the 4 Test matches played in 2018 scoring 135 runs at an average of 19.28.
This record is a far cry from his record in 2017 season, where he scored 1140 runs in 11 Tests with an average of 67.05, four centuries and a highest of 202 against Australia. He had an uncontested reign over the no.3 spot, but now an option has risen in form of KL Rahul.
Coming off a very good Indian Premier League season 2018, where he was the highest scorer for his franchise Kings XI Punjab and also scored the fastest half-century (in 14 balls) in league history. KL Rahul has primarily been contesting for the opening slot with M Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan. Past few years have seen either of the two opening for India thanks to injuries and personal engagements.
But with all the three players fit and raring to go, and Vijay and Dhawan hitting sublime centuries against Afghanistan; the team management will be looking to fit KL Rahul in the playing XI for England. The absence of Virat Kohli enabled Pujara to bat at no.4 against Afghanistan, but that spot will fill automatically when Virat Kohli returns to the fold.
Now the fight for the number three position in the playing XI for the Test series against India will be between Pujara and KL Rahul. While KL Rahul will be making his first trip to the country that invented the game of cricket, Pujara has already been there in 2014, when he played all the five Tests.
Pujara made 222 runs in 10 innings in 2014, with a best of 55. This record is not something that might throw weight behind his selection in the playing XI of the team. His recent record overseas against South Africa has also been below par, as he scored 100 runs in 6 innings for India, in a series that India lost 1-2. A lot was expected from Pujara, but he failed to deliver and even picked up the habit of getting run out.
With Virat Kohli showing preference to current form, with the example of playing Rohit Sharma in South Africa over Ajinkya Rahane; and should he continue in the same vein, the news might not be good for Pujara’s chances in England.
Pujara has found it difficult to play the bounce and swing at extreme pace and with the possibility of the likes of Anderson, Broad, Woakes and Wood going full throttle at him in England; life might get hard for him, as it happened in 2014, where he found it difficult to play the swing and off the pitch movement.
Pujara tried to gain an advantage by playing in the England county circuit after being snubbed by the IPL again. He signed up with Yorkshire and had a dismal season in English county cricket with a tally of 100 runs in eight innings and an average of 12.50. He had a considerably good time in the List-A format, scoring four consecutive fifty-plus scores including a century against Worcestershire.
However, he failed to capitalize on the opportunity he got in the longer format, something that would have instilled confidence in the Indian team management after the South Africa tour disaster.
KL Rahul is an adept batsman with 1512 runs under his belt in 24 Tests with four centuries and 11 fifties and a best of 199 against England. He has the temperament to play long innings and technically proficient to negotiate the swing and movement of England bowlers.
Cheteshwar Pujara has owned the no.3 spot since the retirement of the great Rahul Dravid and his overall record of 4531 runs in 58 Tests with 14 centuries and a best of 206* is brilliant, given that he has struggled in the country India is due to visit and his last overseas tour was a disaster, the popular opinion is shifting towards KL Rahul as the new no.3 batsman for Team India in Tests.
The team management showed the inkling of doing so against Afghanistan, as KL Rahul was sent ahead of Pujara at no.3, while Pujara batted at no.4, a position that will be reclaimed by Virat Kohli as he leads Team India in England. Pujara went on to put up 35 runs on board against Afghan bowlers, while Rahul compiled a good half-century.
It was a subtle message from the team management for Pujara, whose career is seeing a downward slide at the moment, that no one should take their spot in the team for granted. It is a foregone conclusion that Pujara will make the trip to England with the Indian team for the Test series, but with the competition for the no. 3 spot heating up with KL Rahul putting his hand up; Pujara might have a handful of chances during the practice matches to make sure the team management sees that he should be given preference at no.3 over Rahul.
If Pujara fails, it will be his own wrongdoing and Rahul will get a chance to cement his place in the team at no.3 spot.