WTC Final 2023: Why it is time for Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara to move on from Test cricket

In an era when team’s like Australia, New Zealand and England are silently winning major ICC tournaments, India are fumbling time and again. They said the Indian team is a force to reckon today, but is it so?

You will find all the greats of the game giving this verdict, but maybe that’s just to pamper the ego of these multi-millionaire players of a billionaire board. The players representing a nation of billion, look like employees of a corporate firm.

The 209-run thrashing in the World Test Championship Final (WTC Final) 2023 at The Oval in Lord’s does not even have the cushion of ‘India lost but won hearts’. The Asian giants have been battered hands down by the mighty Australian. The massive failure of two most experienced players in the team – Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara – have hurt the team the most.

Rohit took over India’s captaincy as Kohli failed to deliver India the big trophies. Since his arrival India have lost the Asia Cup 2022, T20 World Cup 2022 in Australia and now WTC final 2023 (pending).

Since taking over the Test captaincy, he has scored 390 runs in seven matches at an average of 35.45. Only one hundred has come off Rohit’s bat during the period. In fact, the other six innings, the opener has failed to cross the 40-run mark only twice, including one in the second innings of the WTC final 2023.

He missed out on the all-important rescheduled fifth Test in England last year after contracting Covid-19. India had the opportunity to win the match and register their first-ever Test series win in England since 2007. However, in the absence of their new leader, the team lost the match by seven wickets.

The 36-year-old could not feature in the 2-Test series in Bangladesh due to an injury. His fitness has been in question lately and he should have ideally worked on it after taking the baton from someone like Kohli who took the team’s fitness level to another level.

A leader not keeping up to the demanding fitness standards looks ugly in modern day cricket. The fitness levels of the opposition players and players in the team exposes one big time.

Rohit made a name for himself with his white-ball game before resurrecting his Test career after starting to open in the format in 2019. He grabbed on the opportunity with both the hands before getting complacent.

You ask Rohit about his career goals and he will say winning as many trophies as possible. But they are just words coming out of his mouth. The intent and the approach don’t align with his ambitions.

As he continued to fail innings after innings in the IPL 2023, his well-wishers suggested that he take a break to freshen up himself and prepare for the WTC final 2023 but the ‘corporate player’ in him did not allow him to make the big call. He finished the T20 campaign with 332 runs at an average of 20.75 and failed to win the trophy.

In the WTC final, he was dismissed for 15 after failing to clip the ball towards leg side and getting hit on the pads. He completely failed to read the line and length. He forgot that he was batting in the swinging conditions of London and not on a subcontinent Mumbai track, and he was facing Pat Cummins and not an IPL sensation.

Rohit Sharma looked fluent in the first innings before hurrying up and gifting his wicket on the sight of Nathan Lyon. They call Rohit a ‘talented’ player with a supreme gift of natural timing, however, ended up nervously playing a sweep shot against Lyon as the veteran off-spinner hit him right on the pad.

England and Australia players sheepishly using the sweep shot to tackle spin in subcontinent conditions is well known to all. But a case of a star India batter unnecessarily sweeping an Australian spinner in England was something really new.

The temperament isn’t there, the fitness to bat for long hours isn’t there and the fire in captaincy also lacked in the WTC final 2023. It’s time for Rohit to give way to a youngster in the longest format.

Why Pujara should retire

Cheteshwar Pujara, India’s only specialist Test batter, was dropped after his disappointing tour of South Africa in 2021-22. He went to play for Sussex in the County Championship, piled up 1094 runs at an average of 109.40 and made a comeback in the India team with the Bangladesh series.

In his comeback Test, the 35-year-old scored 90 and 102 unbeaten runs across the two innings. The next 11 innings have seen him score just one fifty and four single-digit scores. In the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2023, Pujara scored 140 runs in four matches at an average of 28.

As the other WTC 2023 final-bound players featured in the IPL 2023, the Saurashtra cricketer got back to the UK and piled up 545 runs in six matches at an average of 68.12.

But come the WTC 2023 final, he scored 14 in the first innings and perished for 27 in the second. All his preparations by playing in the English conditions and smashing county bowlers for fun went for a toss.

Pujara has beautifully served the Indian cricket. 7195 runs at an average of 43.61 in 103 have helped India register many memorable wins. His grit, his passion for the purest format of the game, the blows he has taken on his body for the nation – all will be remembered forever.

But like all beautiful things, Pujara should gracefully end his Test journey and continue enjoying the game in domestic red-ball matches. Pujara will not have to look far for inspiration and just look at the Essex squad. Former England captain Sir Alastair Cook retired from international cricket in 2018 but still plays county cricket for them.

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