Aakash Chopra: 'I will be heartbroken if Pujara is dropped'

Pujara had a lukewarm outing playing county cricket in England, managing to score 172 runs in 12 innings. With the first Test at Edgbaston only a few days away, Pujara is seemingly fighting for his place.

Will Test specialist Cheteshwar Pujara find a place in the playing XI ?   -  AFP

The mind games have started. England's highest Test wicket-taker James Anderson set the ball rolling with his remarks that India skipper Virat Kohli will be desperate to score runs. He did not forget to remind that Kohli had a forgettable 2014 tour.  

It is a much-awaited Test series. The Barmy Army, as the legion of English fans are popularly known, awarded Kohli the International Player of the Year 2017-18.

While the Anderson vs Kohli battle is all set to resume, the focus has shifted towards India's middle-order batsman Cheteshwar Pujara.  

Pujara had a lukewarm outing playing county cricket in England, managing to score 172 runs in 12 innings. With the first Test at Edgbaston only a few days away, Pujara is seemingly fighting for his place. It is likely that Pujara might be replaced by K.L. Rahul, who has been among the runs. But former India opener Aakash Chopra said he will be "heartbroken" if Pujara is dropped. 

"There's no way you can drop Pujara. Rahul is doing well, but Pujara has to be in the playing XI. I will be heartbroken if Pujara gets dropped," Chopra told Sportstar on Sunday.

 

"Yes, he didn't score (too many) runs in the county circuit and also in the warm-up game, but he has been the batsman of pedigree in the last 4-5 years and he wasn't that bad to be fair. Everybody fails and Pujara did too, but he did spend a lot of time blunting the new ball and India can take a call later but not now. To accommodate Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan has to go, but not Pujara. I will be sad if Pujara gets dropped," he added.  

READ: India awaits Kohli magic in England Tests

India started the tour with a bang, winning the T20I series. However, the wheels came off during the ODI series as England beat the Men in Blue 2-1.

The absence of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, both nursing injuries, will be a concern for India. Chopra feels their absence gives England an edge.  "Currently, with Bhuvi and Bumrah getting injured, and Shami losing his rhythm, bowling is a concern. We are in a precarious position, but with the conditions being dry in England, spin will play a bigger role. That allows us to compete on equal terms. But it won't be easy," he said. 

 

Yo-Yo test

"If, as a skipper, I want my best bowler to bowl the last spell of the day, then you have to be at your best. And Yo-Yo test is not IIT that you can't crack. An athlete has to put himself in prime fitness, especially before a tour, and if he doesn't, it is a grave injustice to the people you are representing. Playing for India is a privilege and it's a very small demand."  — Aakash Chopra.

 

 

On the spin department, Chopra said Kuldeep Yadav should ideally replace Ravindra Jadeja, given that the chinaman troubled the English batsmen during the T20I and ODI series.   "It's a tough one, but I will go with Kuldeep ahead of Jadeja. But you should not forget that Jadeja took seven wickets in an innings against England last time (in Chennai), and he took six wickets in the last Test match he played (against Afghanistan). He has done no wrong. It's a harsh decision, but I will go with Kuldeep." 

Chopra insisted that India should play five bowlers since it doesn't have the services of Bumrah and especially Bhuvneshwar, who is also a handy lower-order batsman. "Batting looks thin in Bhuvi's absence and, as we are speaking, it is raining in Birmingham. If you give a green top, India doesn't really have the bowling attack to take 20 wickets. England would have realised that after seeing India's warm-up game. India played four fast bowlers in South Africa last year and Umesh Yadav didn't even fit in. But now he is the obvious choice along with Ishant Sharma."

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"Mohammed Shami is not in form and if picked, Shardul Thakur will be playing his first Test match. Ishant, Umesh, R. Ashwin and Kuldeep should ideally be playing, but again we need to look at the pitch and see how the conditions are," he said.

On the ongoing Kohli vs Anderson narrative, Chopra is confident that the India skipper will trump the England speedster.  "Both have travelled in opposite directions. From 2014, Kohli's performance has been brilliant, but Anderson's fitness has taken a hit. Anderson had the edge then, but now Kohli is in a space where he can tackle him. It won't be a nightmare for him to face Anderson. You will nick a few, but Kohli knows where his off-stump is. Kohli is ahead of Anderson." 

Under Sourav Ganguly, India drew 1-1 with England in 2002 and scripted history in 2007 by winning 1-0 under Rahul Dravid's captaincy. The team led by Kohli is hungry for overseas success. Chopra said India needs to iron out a few flaws to beat England.  "There are three things that are going to define this tour for India. First, they need to sort out the opening combination. Second would be catching because if you can take catches that will put the team in a good position, and finally, dismissing England's lower-order. Suppose Kuldeep is not able to pick wickets or if he is not playing, India might struggle to dismiss the England tail and the bottom five of England are going to hurt India," he said.