Cheteshwar Pujara is set to miss vital match practice ahead of the crucial Australia Tests series which starts from February 22. The prolific Saurashtra batsman will be out of action for 41 days, courtesy the selectors' decision to not include him in any of the three squads (Rest of India, Board President XI and India 'A') squads released by the Board of Control for Cricket in India on Tuesday.
Pujara's last competitive match was the Ranji Trophy quarter-final between Saurashtra and Karnataka from January 6-10. Though he was included in the India one-day team for the England series which the hosts won 3-2, Pujara ended up warming the bench.
One expected him to make his ODI debut in the inconsequential final tie in Dharamsala, but that wasn't the case. He was neither released for Saurashtra's maiden Ranji Trophy final appearance which they lost by an innings and 125 runs at the Wankhede Stadium on Monday.
Niranjan Shah, BCCI vice-president and Saurashtra Cricket Association secretary is clueless about Pujara's exclusion. "I am not aware as to why he hasn't been selected in any of the three squads. I don't know what the selectors are really thinking. There is no question of Pujara asking for rest as he is making a mark in the Indian team," Shah told MiD DAY from Rajkot. BCCI secretary Sanjay Jagdale was unavailable for comment. Neither did his press release state any reason for Pujara's exclusion.
However, a selector justified the decision by saying, "we have not selected any player who is a certainty to play the forthcoming Test series against Australia. That's why Pujara hasn't been selected."
Going by this explanation, Virender Sehwag, who will lead the Rest of India team for the Irani Cup, and Suresh Raina are not certainties to play against the Australians. It is also learnt that Yuvraj Singh, who managed only 125 runs in the three Tests against England, will not be considered for the Australia series. The southpaw was also not included in any of the three squads.
The decision not to field the Test stars in any of the three games leading up to the Australia series seems to be another 'tactic' employed by the selectors and team management after their strange decision of not including a specialist spinner for games in the build-up to last year's Test series against England.
The squad Rest of India: Virender Sehwag (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, M Vijay, Manoj Tiwary, Suresh Raina, Wriddhiman Saha, Harbhajan Singh, S Sreesanth, Pragyan Ojha, Ishwar Pandey, Abhimanyu Mithun, Ambati Rayudu, Shami Ahmed, Jalaj Saxen Board President's XI: Abhinav Mukund (captain), Robin Uthappa, Ambati Rayudu, Mandeep Singh, Kedar Jadhav, Parthiv Patel, Stuart Binny, Sarabjit Ladda, Parvez Rassol, Shami Ahmed, Parvinder Awana, Kamlesh Makwana India A: Shikhar Dhawan (captain), Jiwanjyot Singh, Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, Ajinkya Rahane, C Gautam, Rakesh Dhruv, Jalaj Saxena, Manpreet Gony, Vinay Kumar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Ashok Menaria.