February 21, 2022: They have all had long and successful careers but for some time now it had become inevitable that the axe would fall on the trio. So, the dropping of Ishant Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane from the Indian squad to play the Test series against Sri Lanka is along predictable lines. In fact, the harsher critics will say that they got a long rope and their omission should have come about some time ago.
To be candid the three were short on runs and wickets for quite a while and with a host of talented young cricketers knocking at the doors their continuance was open to question. There is a problem of plenty in Indian cricket today with any number of gifted players around right down the order – from top order and middle order batsmen to pace and spin bowlers to wicketkeepers. No one can take his place for granted and that is an encouraging scenario for it means that those not among the runs and wickets will be shown the door however established the stars are.
And the three were established stars. Pujara has played 95 Tests, Rahane 82 and Ishant 105. Ishant was the first to make his debut in 2007 and has been more or less a regular member of the squad, barring injuries, since then. Pujara made his Test debut in 2010 even as Rahul Dravid was still around and when the latter retired, he fitted in admirably at the pivotal No 3 slot. Rahane too has been a pillar of strength in the middle order since he played his first Test in 2013. All three have impressive stats to back them up and the number of times they have played the rescue act or starred in India’s victories cannot and should not be easily forgotten.
However, as the sporting adage goes, you are only as good as your last performance. And in the case of the trio the graph has shown a palpable decline. The big scores generally associated with Pujara and Rahane have long since dried up while there has been an obvious decline in Ishant’s strike rate. And with the youth factor too against them – all of them are in the 34 age bracket – it is difficult to see them make a comeback. Selection committee chairman Chetan Sharma has said that the trio have been told “they will not be considered for just these two Tests” but one can deduce he is being polite. They have been requested to play in the Ranji Trophy so that their form and fitness can be gauged. But even if they excel in the premier national competition one has serious doubts if they can force their way back. Also, the lack of motivation can be a discouraging factor.
Most important as I said there are a number of young talented players around and it is always good to invest in the future. The batting and the pace bowling departments are particularly full of encouraging signs. The youngsters are making the most of their opportunities with the result that there are other youngsters still waiting in the queue. So, looking at it from any angle, there is very little chance of Pujara, Rahane and Ishant returning to the squad.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)