The difficult aspect of a selector’s job is determining when a player should be gradually taken out of the game. The Indian cricket board’s decision-makers must consider the choice about their players in their mid-30s after the World Test Championship final.
When he retired, Sachin Tendulkar was 40, VVS Laxman was 37, and India’s coach Rahul Dravid was 39.
The Indian selection committee had one player whose future they needed to consider right away before the WTC final: Cheteshwar Pujara. They have two possibilities after the match in London last week, and Ajinkya Rahane has also made a compelling case for a longer stay in the squad with innings of 89 and 46.
Selectors must decide whether to stick with the veterans in the middle order or move on and assemble the team with younger players as they put a strategy in place for the upcoming World Test Championship, which begins with a two-Test series against the West Indies in the Caribbean in July.
Pujara and Rahane will both be 37 when the WTC 2025 championship game is over. Is it possible that their abilities would have begun to decline? Though it may not always be the case. When he scored three hundreds in four Tests in 2011 against England, their coach Dravid had his finest series in the UK at the age of 37. At the age of 37, Tendulkar too had a successful run with four hundreds, including two double hundreds. Tendulkar scored two hundreds in three Test matches in South Africa in 2010 against the potent South Africa attack.
Not just the Indian cricketers are affected. Even Dravid’s Australian teammates from the same era retired around the same time. At the time of their retirement, Ricky Ponting, the late Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, who was 28 days away from turning 37, and Matthew Hayden were all 37 years old.
The Rahne case
Shreyas Iyer’s ailment prevented him from playing in the WTC final, which led to Rahane’s participation in the lineup. The veteran was a perfect substitute because of his familiarity with the situation and his past performance in the IPL. However, the selectors only saw him as a temporary solution and their top choice to withstand the strain of the big stage. However, his achievement in both essays indicates that he has also built a claim for the next Test series.
So, should the selectors make the big choice and make a dramatic change, or should they go with the flow and take it series by series? They have the choice to follow the flow till Iyer is back in shape. When Iyer returns to the side, the difficult decision will have to be made. Rahane and Pujara are pitted against one another for a spot in the middle order because of this arbitrary decision.
Rahane was written out along with Pujara after the South Africa series loss at the beginning of 2022. They have shown there is still some cricket in them. Rahane languished in the wilderness until making a spectacular statement with his performance in IPL 2023, while the Saurashtra batsman pushed his way back into the squad on the strength of solid performances in County cricket.
Rahane seized the chance as Pujara was out for 14 and 27 in the championship game.
Whether Rahane’s return was intended exclusively for the final or whether India will also consider him for other competitions was a key point of contention. Coach Dravid stated it will solely depend on Rahane’s performance before the game.
“You don’t want him to treat this as a one-time thing. Sometimes players are let go by their clubs, but they later make a return and continue to play for as long as they are producing and playing well. You don’t always receive one match, it’s not a given. In the run-up to the WTC final, Dravid stated, “Even when individuals come back from injury, you never know what might happen. If he puts in a terrific performance and displays what he has, who knows.
Rahane should be encouraged by it.
POSITION FOR BATTLE
It seems that Iyer and Rahane will compete in terms of batting position rather than Rahane and Pujara. Iyer bats No. 5 or No. 6. Rahane batted fifth in the WTC championship game.
Iyer is adaptable, but Pujara bats at No. 3. He doesn’t bat in a constant posture and has shown the ability to change his style to fit various positions. He often bats at No. 3 for Mumbai. He was used by the Indian team management in accordance with their offensive strategy for the opposition. Rishabh Pant was batting at No. 5 before to his injury.
Due to the two veterans’ propensity for scoring hard runs, it is not an easy choice to bench them. They have remained relevant in the plans of the Indian cricket team because to their track record of back-to-the-wall innings. Rahane gave more evidence of it towards the conclusion when he remained steadfast among the rubble. The No. 5’s effort was essential in keeping the Indian side in the game till the last day of the final at The Oval as they were under intense pressure from Australia. Everyone sat up and took note of it. The famous South African batsman AB de Villiers took notice of the valiant first innings performance and praised the player. “Rahane moves like I’ve never seen him before! In response to cricket analyst Harsha Bhogle’s tweet, De Villiers said, “The technique is solid and playing it late.
Rahane’s 89 and 46 are still fresh in our minds, while Pujara’s innings of great skill against Nathan Lyon & Co. in Indore during India’s last series, also against Australia, is still vivid. Also noteworthy are his great contributions to India’s series victories against Australia in 2018–19, 2020–21, and 2016–17.
But the real issue is how long they will be relevant. For both veterans, the emotional component is no longer there. It would have been extremely sad for their careers to have ended at that time if they had been cut after the 2022 South Africa series despite being outstanding game servants.
Pujara was five Tests shy of reaching 100. For a great cricketing warrior who has played a lot of heroic innings while putting his body on the line, missing out on the milestone seems unjust. His goal of taking part in his 100th Test has already been fulfilled.
For Rahane, who has been a consistent member of the team for ten years, his supporters just wanted a dignified exit from the game. The WTC final has given him the ideal stage to build upon his impressive performance in the IPL. It preserves his reputation as a player who made tough runs in trying circumstances while playing away.
There is no longer anything for either party to prove. They must rack up a tonne of runs if they want to keep playing.