BENGALURU: With every outing and low returns, the pressure is only increasing on Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. With KL Rahul, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma sitting out of this Test, this was an opportunity for the middle-order duo to stand up and make it count and silence all the noise.
Instead on Day 4 at Green Park Stadium in Kanpur, they put themselves in further tight spot as their woeful form with the bat continued. If not for debutant Shreyas Iyer, Wriddhiman Saha and the contribution of the lower-order, this Test may not have gone into Day 5. Thanks to their efforts, after setting New Zealand a target of 284, R Ashwin removed Will Young as the Kiwis need 280 on Day 5.
On a day where Pujara (22) and Rahane (4) failed to induce any confidence, that Shreyas scored vital runs only adds more pressure on the duo with the tour of South Africa coming soon. Over the past 12 months, the performance of the other batters has allowed Pujara and Rahane to breathe easy, but it is getting more and more tight for them. The Mumbai Test starting on December 3 could turn out to be a litmus test for both, although there is no guarantee that the two batters will get to play at Wankhede.
Shreyas, who looked assured against both the pacers and spinners, stands a good chance to hold on to his place with Kohli set for comeback in the second Test. Unless India decide to play seven batters, only two of Pujara, Rahane and Shreyas can make the cut as the team management has a tough choice to make. While Pujara’s and Rahane’s form are cause of concern, especially when they play only five regular batters, India are also looking to groom a middle-order bat with an eye on the future. With a tough South Africa tour coming up, India were looking to make the transition next year, however with the duo showing no signs of returning to form, it remains to be seen if they make the changes now.
Speaking at the end of play, India’s batting coach Vikram Rathour threw his weight behind Pujara and Rahane, pointing out that their experience is something this team still needs. “Of course we want our top order to contribute, but the cricketers you mentioned have played 80 and 90 Tests so they have the experience. I understand both of them are going through a lean phase but they have played very very important knocks for us in the past, and we are pretty sure they will come back and play more important knocks for our team in the future,” Rathour said.
Rathour did not commit to anything when asked about the situation where Kohli comes in for the next game with Shreyas having scored a ton. In that sense, Sunday was an opportunity lost for Pujara and Rahane. There were no demons in the track and the slow nature presented a chance to spend time in the middle and find runs, instead they were far from their usual best. That meant, India had a horrid start as New Zealand reduced them to 51-5 in the first session.
From there on Shreyas (65) steadied India in the company of R Ashwin (32) before Wriddhiman Saha (61 n.o) and Axar Patel (28) took the team beyond a safe total.
India 1st innings: 345
New Zealand 1st innings: 296
India 2nd innings (O/N 14-1): Agarwal c Latham b Southee 17, Pujara c Blundell b Jamieson 22, Rahane lbw Ajaz 4, Shreyas c Blundell b Southee 65, Jadeja lbw Southee 0, Ashwin b Jamieson 32, Saha (not out) 61, Axar (not out) 28. Extras: (b 3, lb 1) 4,
Total (seven wickets, 81 ovs, dec) 234.
FOW: 1-2, 2-32, 3-41, 4-51, 5-51, 6-103, 7-167.
Bowling: Southee 22-2-75-3, Jamieson 17-6-40-3, Ajaz 17-3-60-1, Rachin 9-3-17-0, Somerville 16-2-38-0.
New Zealand 2nd innings: Latham (batting) 2, Young lbw Ashwin 2, Somerville (batting) 0, Extras 0, Total (1 wicket, 4 overs) 4.
Bowling: Ashwin 2-0-3-1, Axar 2-1-1-0.