The conundrum at number 6
India are still undecided with their No 6 position © Getty Images

 

By Ankit Mishra

 

The Indian cricket team, in the past, has been accused of being slow starters on away tours, if not woeful travellers. The former holds some truth, though it can be conveniently attributed to the lack of practice games these days.

 

In the quest to make money, cricket boards worldwide have ignored this important aspect of a Test series. In this context, it seems ironical that whenever a touring side visits India, there is always a warm-up game for them, but the same consideration is not meted out to the Indian team when they travel overseas.

 

Nevertheless, the Indian team continued to be the No. 1 Test team in the world in 2010, according to the official ICC Rankings. Winning at home against Australia and New Zealand certainly helped the cause. While travelling, India swept Bangladesh and drew against Sri Lanka. Fans rejoiced at these feats, but somehow there seemed to be a certain frailty about this team – a frailty resulting from the lack of a successful batsman at No 6. This conundrum allowed the Indian selectors to experiment with many players. Not many impressed, though.

 

Let’s dig deeper.

 

Cheteshwar Pujara or Suresh Raina? 

 

Suresh Raina was touted as the next big thing in Indian cricket by Greg Chappell, and showed glimpses of that promise on sub-continental pitches. However, his average of 33.9 in 2010, including two ducks, is not flattering. Not everyone can be as blessed as Virender Sehwag to get away with unrestrained strokeplay.

 

Contrast that to the first class career of a certain Cheteshwar Pujara, who averages 57 and you get the picture.
But if one were to compare apples to apples and compare the first class averages of Pujara and Raina, then here too Pujara is way ahead of Raina in terms of centuries and batting average.

 

 

Mat

Inns

NO

Runs

HS

Ave

100

50

Ct

Pujara

54

86

14

4119

302*

57.2

14

15

29

Raina

59

98

4

4057

203

43.2

7

27

63

 

Probably the two areas where Raina scores above Pujara are acceleration and athleticism, but when it comes to Test matches, the latter doesn’t seem to do that bad either.

 

With all that going for him, Pujara was selected in the second Test against Australia at Bangalore and showed his temperament by scoring a second innings 72, coming in at No 3 to guide India home. All the above are enough to convince me that he is a better bet than Raina when it comes to Test cricket.

 

Other players in the running 

 

The year 2010 was a not so fruitful year for the other players who are in contention for the No 6 slot.
Let’s take a look at how they fared in the year that was:

 

Player

Mat

Inns

NO

Runs

HS

Ave

SR

100

50

0

M Vijay

7

11

0

376

139

34.2

46.82

1

1

0

Yuvraj Singh

3

4

0

94

52

23.5

66.66

0

1

0

S Badrinath

2

3

0

63

56

21

35.39

0

1

0

KD Karthik

1

2

0

27

27

13.5

60

0

0

1

 

Murali Vijay’s innings of 139 apart as an opener, no player was able to make much of an impression, though Badrinath and Karthik got limited opportunities. Nevertheless, it can be said with a fair amount of accuracy that there are not many contenders at the moment to challenge Pujara’s claim to wear the national whites.

 

Indian cricket is going through a latent transition phase. The senior pros are heading into sunset while the wannabes are trying their best to lay claim to the spots that would eventually be vacated by the greats.

 

From what we have seen in the recent past, not many seem to possess the consistency which international Test cricket demands.
Will this team continue to remain on the top of the world after this transition period is over? Only time will tell. For now Pujara seems to be the best investment for the future.

 

(Ankit Mishra has been ‘watching cricket’since he was in his mother’s womb! A keen backyard cricketer, who still plays at the university where he is persuing an MBA, Ankit has a deep love for the sport and is very interested in the psychology of it. Especially how ordinary people relate to cricketers on a level deeper than sheer admiration and how sport has the ability to unite people from all walks of life. When he is not contributing to his award-winning blog Paddle Sweep (paddlesweep.net) or ranting on Twitter (twitter.com/mi5hra) , he’s usually talking Marketing, Brands and Digital)