Before the Sri Lankan series started it was a three-way battle between Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara and KL Rahul for the fifth batsman's spot in the Indian team. Now that the three-Test series is over, which out of the three contenders has earned his place in the playing XI?
Pujara's unbeaten century in Colombo- one that earned him the man of the match award- seems to have tilted the scales in favour of the Gujarat batsman.
"I think Pujara definitely, after he got that 100 in trying circumstances. He certainly has made a very big claim to keep his place in the team when the first test against South Africa begins. Test batsmen in my view are supposed to get hundreds and that's what he has done", Sunil Gavaksar told NDTV
The series statistics also back Gavaskar's assessment: Rohit Sharma with 202 runs in the series is just marginally ahead of Pujara's 145 runs, despite Rohit having played 4 more innings than Pujara in the series; KL Rahul comes at the third spot with 126 runs.
Perhaps, the best way to look at the series records would be to keep the batting averages as the prime focus; Cheteshwar Pujara, in that case, tops the charts with an astounding average of 145. Rohit and Rahul follow with series batting averages of 34 & 21 respectively.
But despite Pujara proving his test credentials in Sri Lanka, he may still find it tough to break into the Indian playing XI anytime soon; primarily because of the Indian team management's preference for more flamboyant batsmen, that also falls in line with their strategy to play aggressive cricket. Former India cricketer Md Kaif summed up Indian team's predicament best through his tweet,
"Pujara's case is that of a classical test batsman who's sacrificed to favour a more flamboyant player. Story of Indian cricket. Not correct."
Interestingly, a closer look at Pujara's test career presents a very different picture than what is popularly perceived: while Rohit Sharma's career test strike-rate stands at 52, Pujara is not too far behind at 49. KL Rahul comes at the third spot with a career strike-rate of 47.
Pujara's only fault, it seems, is that he's stayed true to playing test cricket the conventional way, when others around him have chosen the style influenced by ODI and T20 cricket.