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News

Gavaskar defends 'loyal servant' Pujara: 'Why make him the scapegoat for our batting failures?'

"I simply don't understand, what is the criteria of dropping him and keeping the others who failed?"

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
25-Jun-2023
Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar believes Cheteshwar Pujara has been made a "scapegoat" for India's batting failures, most-recently at the World Test Championship final which they lost to Australia by 209 runs.
Pujara is the only batter to be left out for the upcoming Test series against West Indies, from the core group that featured in that match. With the new WTC cycle beginning with the the two-Test tour of the Caribbean in July, the selection panel, led for now by SS Das, have picked uncapped Yashasvi Jaiswal and Ruturaj Gaikwad in the 17-member squad. This means India will potentially have a debutant at No. 3, unless Shubman Gill drops down one position.
"Why has he been dropped? Why has he been made the scapegoat for our batting failures? He has been a loyal servant of Indian cricket," Gavaskar told India Today. "But because he does not have millions of followers on platforms who will make a noise in case he gets dropped, so you drop him. That is something beyond my understanding. What is the criteria of dropping him and keeping the others who failed? I do not know because nowadays, there is no media interaction with the selection committee chairman, where you could ask these questions."
Pujara managed scores of 14 and 27 at The Oval. Overall, in the 2021-23 WTC cycle, he was India's second-highest scorer with 928 runs in 32 innings at an average of 32 with one century and six half-centuries. Virat Kohli is at the top but he was only marginally better - 932 runs in 30 innings was 32.13, with one century and three half-centuries.
Gavaskar believes Pujara can still offer a couple of years to Indian cricket, but the road back to the team could be very tough, especially if India's injured regulars Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer return. For now, Ajinkya Rahane, their top-scorer in the WTC final, has been named vice-captain to Rohit Sharma.
"He has been playing county cricket. So, he has played a lot of red-ball cricket, so he knows what it is about," Gavaskar said when asked if Pujara can make a comeback. "Today, people can play till they are 39-40. There's nothing wrong, they're all very fit; as long as you are producing runs and taking wickets, I do not think age should be a factor. Clearly only one man has been singled out, while the others who have failed…to me, the batting failed. Apart from (Ajinkya) Rahane, the batting completely failed. Why Pujara has been made the fall guy is something the selectors need to explain."
Gavaskar also questioned the value of the Ranji Trophy especially in the wake of Sarfaraz Khan's exclusion. The 25-year-old has stacked up mountains of runs over the past three seasons, His first-class average (79.65) is second only to Sir Don Bradman, among batters who've played at least 50 innings. However, Sarfaraz had a modest IPL in 2023 and wasn't a regular starter for the Delhi Capitals, leading Gavaskar to wonder if the IPL had been a hindrance to his selection.
"You do well in the IPL and you get to be picked even in Test cricket. That seems to be the situation," Gavaskar said. "Even if you look at the selection of the team, you have four opening batters for two Test matches. It's not the old fast West Indies attack where you needed six opening batters.
"Sarfaraz Khan has been scoring at an average of 100 in all past three seasons. What does he have to do to be picked in the [Test] squad? He might not be in the XI, but you pick him in the team. Tell him that his performances are being recognised. Otherwise, stop playing Ranji Trophy. Say, it's of no use, you just play IPL and think you are good enough for the red-ball game as well."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo