All eyes on run-out menace Pujara, ears on Rohit

Cheteshwar Pujara (left) and Rohit Sharma will be watched keenly when they link up at the crease in the second Test.

Rohit Sharma’s baptism at the top of the order in Tests couldn’t have been more successful. The twin centuries in a winning cause dominated the back pages of newspapers last week. However, the video of him loudly castigating Cheteshwar Pujara with India’s favourite cuss word in the hosts’ second innings drew equal attention, if not more than his exploits with the bat.

The reason for Rohit’s outburst was a single denied to him by Pujara, and a couple of Rohit’s predecessors in the opening slot — K L Rahul and Murali Vijay — would have been shaking their heads in sad understanding. For, popular as ‘Pujji’ is in the team and reliable as he is in the top order, he is increasingly becoming a menace between the wickets.

So, if and when Rohit links up with Pujara in the second Test beginning Thursday in Pune, he will not only have to watch what he says but also how Pujara runs: sometimes too eager, sometimes too lethargic, and too often, indecisive. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, with 13 and nine run-outs in 286 and 329 innings respectively, occupy the top two spots for Indian batsmen with most dismissals in that manner, but Pujara, having played less than half of the Test cricket the two have, is threatening to dislodge them with eight run-out dismissals in 120 innings. He has also been involved in three other run-outs.

Pujara became the first Indian batsman to run himself out twice in a Test against South Africa in Centurion last year, a period that caught him short of his crease four times overall. Since the away 2016 series against West Indies, Pujara has run himself out on six occasions while K L Rahul and Vijay have been run out once each while batting with him. Since his debut in 2010 to the tour of West Indies in 2016, he was run out only twice in 30 Tests while the count is six in the last 41 Tests.    

Pujara has never been the swiftest either on the field or between the wickets. The two knee injuries — on both legs — have slowed him down considerably. And with advancing age, he is only going to get slower. An understanding of his limitations on this front — and an appreciation of the value he brings otherwise — could save India some blushes.

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