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Bishan Bedi, in his inimitable way, has lashed out at the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in the manner in which they have decided on player gradation — specifically that of Cheteshwar Pujara and Suresh Raina. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the element of bias in doling out the contracts.
Bishan Singh Bedi has never been afraid to speak his mind — even in his playing days, when he had much to lose. The spin legend was his voluble self yet again when he questioned the BCCI player contracts. “How can you compare Cheteshwar Pujara and Suresh Raina? If you can’t compare, then how can Raina be in Group A of BCCI’s central contract, while Pujara is in Group B?” Bedi’s plain-speak came in an interview to The Times of India.
The Times correspondent asked if it was because [Suresh] Raina is close to BCCI President N Srinivasan, [Bishan] Bedi said, ‘that’s it’.”
Let us find out first the respective achievements of Raina and Pujara. Hailing from the rather ‘unfashionable’ Saurashtra, Pujara has probably been the most prolific accumulator in the oldest format of the sport. He was named ICC’s Emerging Cricketer of the Year, and averages [66.25] next only to Sir Don Bradman, if one puts a cut-off of 1,000 runs. A batsman of the highest order, few people will doubt Pujara’s abilities to handle both and spin, even under the most trying of circumstances.
Raina, on the other hand, is an Indian Premier League [IPL] behemoth, destroying bowlers on flat tracks, albeit as the part of a very strong batting unit. Arguably the best Twenty20 batsman India has produced, Raina has the ability to score big in the shortest format. He is also a quality chaser (1,644 runs at 65.76 with a strike rate of 101.35 in successful chases).
|Tests (vs Aus, Eng, SA)||13||1,244||65.47||51.5||7||229||17.62||51.8|
|Tests (in Aus, Eng, SA)||4||311||44.42||43.5||5||111||11.10||41.4|
Let us look at the career summaries of the two men: Raina has definitely been the leader in Twenty20 matches; he also has a clear advantage in ODIs, but that is more due to having more opportunities than anything. In all List A matches, Pujara averages 49 per cent more than Raina. If that is not enough, Pujara averages third in the history of List A cricket. Surely he deserves more than the two ODIs that had been dished out to him?
But then, this is an article on contracts. Let us delve deeper into the lists. Other than Raina, Grade A consists of Sachin Tendulkar (illustrious career), MS Dhoni (captain), Virat Kohli (vice-captain), and Ravichandran Ashwin (was making waves in Tests before he toured South Africa; was also a certainty in all three formats till then).
Where does Raina fit into all this? What has he done to be elevated to this category ahead of Pujara, the man who has been hailed as the next Rahul Dravid, has captured the imagination of connoisseurs, has bailed India out of tight situations more often than not, and is probably the best emerging Test batsman in the world?
It is to be noted that Pujara has been grouped with Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh (both out of favour), Pragyan Ojha (plays only home Tests), Ishant Sharma (intent on breaking all sorts of dubious records with the ball), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Rohit Sharma (all of who have been decent, but not exceptional, unlike Pujara)? Maybe Ravindra Jadeja, another Grade B contract-holder, might get a longer run next season, but hasn’t Pujara done more than enough already?
Maybe there was some truth in Bedi’s words, after all. Maybe we may see Raina retaining his contract despite his embarrassing exposure against bounce. Given the fact that they hail from a certain IPL franchise, Ashwin may retain his contract even if he continues with his form in South Africa and Jadeja may gain a promotion even if he doesn’t improve.
Pujara, unfortunately, does not have a ‘godfather’ – which does not, however, stop him from delivering. The best young batsman in the world does not have a bat sponsor either – though he unfailingly shows the letters SG to the bowler every time he plays on the front-foot.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
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