On the one hand, the International Cricket Council (ICC) claims that Test cricket has seen a record number of spectators in the past year. Yet on the other hand, closer to home, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), in its wisdom, has decided not to reward an outstanding Test cricketer.
Even as talk about Virat Kohli, the Indian captain, catching up fast on Sachin Tendulkar’s records is doing the rounds, what is being missed and raised only as if on a soon-to-be-forgotten epitaph is the mention of Cheteshwar Pujara staying on a central contract with a grading of A instead of being promoted to A+. It is interesting that while one cricketer is being hailed and rightly so, Pujara’s efforts are being placed in the same category as Rishabh Pant who has just made the grade.
At one point, mid-way through last year, Ravi Shastri, Indian coach, and Kohli, India’s captain, was staring down the barrel, as England capitalized on pivotal moments to hand India a stunning defeat even though India were widely tipped for Test series success on English shores. Even as India’s think tank were facing the possibility of an intense scrutiny, one man was silently resurrecting his own hopes and fortunes as well as India’s.
It would not be unfair to say that Cheteshwar Pujara’s century in Southampton was a warm up and a premonition of what could be expected of the sublime, understated, highly unrated cricketer. Bracketed in the Test cricket category, Pujara managed to turn around a bleak streak into a blitzkrieg down under, scoring 521 runs and three Test centuries as India pulled off their first overseas Test series win in over seventy years. At a time when it was widely expected that Virat Kohli would set the stage alight, Pujara proved first to be an anchor (batting for over 1250 balls for the series and surpassing Rahul Dravid) and then as the matchwinner that would repeatedly take India into a winning position.
In that scenario, it seems very unappreciative to keep Pujara stagnant at an A grade level instead of incentivizing performances, particularly in the Test cricket context, and elevating the player to the A plus grade. Instead he now shares the stage with Shikar Dhawan who has been downgraded from A plus to A and with Rishabh Pant who, with no disrespect to his own performances, is still a novice amongst veterans in the A grade category.
What is even more bizarre is that Rohit Sharma finds himself continuing on in the A plus grade alongside Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah although it has been said for sometime now that Rohit has been a hugely inconsistent, irregular player in India’s Test line up who has been accorded the long rope at a length. In that light, it seems rather demotivating that a cricketer who would take India to summits previously unscaled should have his status in a status quo situation while he watches young one rise up the ranks and some others being continually favoured for reasons best left to those in power. Furthermore, there is every bit the danger that every cricketer who is slotted as a Test cricket specialist feel disenchanted by the prospect, turning to more lucrative but less fulfilling formats. This is perhaps the loudest signal echoing from the powerful cricket board for over a decade, giving precedence to commercial success of the Indian Premier League over upholding the pristine integrity of Test cricket and the players who feature in it.