India v England: Sehwag’s omission hands Pujara his big ODI chance
India v England: Virender Sehwag's omission hands Cheteshwar Pujara a chance to torment England, writes Harry Kemble
Virender Sehwag’s omission from India’s one-day international side sends a strong message to the rest of the hosts’ squad ahead of the five-match series against England which starts in Rajkot on Friday.
The 34-year-old’s exclusion represents the second major decision in an attempt to try and reverse the fortunes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s free-falling side after Zaheer Khan was dropped for the third Test against England.
But how will England feel about Sehwag’s replacement the Rajkot-born Cheteshwar Pujara, who proved so devastating in the Test series against them in December?
The 24-year-old waited five years before receiving his Test call-up but took little time to settle, with three hundreds in his first nine matches, including a mammoth 206 not out against England in Ahmedabad.
The youngster has drawn comparisons with Indian legend Rahul Dravid, nicknamed “The Wall”, due to the long periods of time he occupies the crease.
Yet, Pujara has already shown the necessary range of strokes to score quickly in the domestic limited-overs arena too.
In India’s The Challenger Trophy, Pujara, playing for India B, scored 361 runs facing 336 balls in three innings and was happy to use a variety of paddle shots, including the reverse sweep.
This may surprise some England supporters who watched the batsman’s innings in Ahmedabad and Mumbai where he scored 135. But many in India, including the man himself, expect the transition across formats to be – like his batting often seems – effortless.
On learning of his selection, Pujara declared it was only a matter of time before he was chosen for the ODI squad.
“I was expecting this call since I did well in the domestic limited-overs tournaments,” he said. “I knew that since I was in form I would be given a chance.”
Yet, Pujara admits to deliberately developing his game to ensure he can score freely in one-day cricket as well.
“You don’t want to play such shots (like the reverse sweep) very often but if the situation demands then you have to learn it,” he said.
“The basics remain the same but you have to understand the situation and change the game accordingly. I believe in preparation. In ODIs and T20s you need to be flexible. You should be ready to bat at any number”
India are currently licking their wounds after a shattering 2-1 home defeat by Pakistan which merely continued the calls for wholesale changes from top to bottom from the nations cricket-loving public.
Nonetheless Pujara feels – despite the series finishing as recently as Sunday – his team-mates will be undeterred with England representing a “fresh start”.
“For an individual and a team every match and every series is a fresh start,” he added. “It was against a different team and now we will be playing a different team. Whatever has happened is in the past.”
Friday’s match will take place at his home ground – the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium – the same venue where he scored 79, 124 and 158 in the Challenger Trophy last October.
It is unsurprising, therefore, that Rajkot batsman is confident he can continue his own sparkling form – if selected – against England having played the tourists before Christmas.
“You know a little bit about what they might plan against you,” he concluded. “They have a different bowling attack too, but mentally you feel that since you have done well against them in the Test format, you are capable of doing well in the ODIs too.”
England will need little reminder of the young man’s talents at Test level and will be hoping that one day international cricket is frontier too far for Cheteshwar Pujara.
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