Opinion: Indians must follow Pujara to County stints

After watching India get humiliated during their recently concluded five-Test series against England, it is time the Indian batsmen got off their high horses and played some county cricket.

Cheteshwar Pujara has become the first Indian batsman to see the light and is currently embroiled in talks with Leicestershire to represent them for the last month of the county season. Even if Pujara plays for a month, it will drastically improve his game, technique and familiarity with English conditions.

But, the big question is how many other Indian batsmen will follow in Pujara’s footsteps? It’s unlikely any of them will because they are too stubborn and simply have more than enough cash. Indian cricketers earn an immense amount of money, which is why they aren’t drawn into playing county cricket in the first place.

In fact, former England captain Michael Vaughan made a very good point in his column for <i>The Daily Telegraph</i>, saying that the Indian players have to be exposed “to a wider world outside the pampering and riches of the Indian Premier League”.

He has hit the nail right on the head. Indian players are becoming spoilt by the IPL and this needs to stop because obviously, the tournament is having a negative effect on their batting.

While they may be able to strike the ball miles into the stands occasionally and entice their devout fans with unorthodox strokes, the fact of the matter is that their ability to build and compile an innings over a longer period of time has taken a turn for the worse.

Pujara and Virat Kohli were seen as the two major threats to England prior to the start of the Test series. However, due to their poor shot selection and foot movement, the England bowlers managed to limit the amount of runs they scored and the damage they inflicted.

Pujara finished the series with 222 runs, which included one half-century, at an average of 22.20, while Kohli only made 134 runs at a highly disappointing average of 13.40. Everyone knows how good Kohli can be and the fact that England did not allow him to even score one half-century in mind-boggling.

But if the pair had played county cricket heading into the series, it would have made a huge difference, and perhaps the end result would have not been as bad as 3-1. In fact, if they were excellent form and carried on making big scores throughout the series, the scoreline would have completely different.

Like Pujara, many of the Indian batsmen got off to great starts. But, it was after their 95-run win in the second Test at Lord’s that their good form with the bat began to desert them.

However, if there were to be another five-Test series in England in two years’ time, all the Indian batsmen would be virtually impossible to dismiss if they spent one season playing cricket in England or elsewhere. But, it all starts with the fact that they need to represent their respective sides in the Ranji Trophy first.

With India’s next Test series scheduled to be against the West Indies in October, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) should make it mandatory for all the national team players to play a certain number of Ranji Trophy matches. But, as we all know, that is highly unlikely to happen.

Furthermore, if international superstars like Australia’s Aaron Finch and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson can find the time to play a couple of months of county cricket in England, then why can’t the Indian batsmen?

Again, it comes down to there being no financial incentive for them to play. But, if the BCCI were to cut back on the players’ wages, then it is possible that we could see stars like Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan playing more county cricket.

This trend of Indian players not playing county cricket is a recent phenomenon, as legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and Anil Kumble all played county cricket.

Many people have asked what the point is of these talented Indian players playing county cricket. The point is that it allows them to keep their rhythm going, develop their game, get accustomed to foreign conditions and learn something new by being in a different environment than the one they are constantly used to.

It also benefits the entire team in the long run as players will know what to expect in terms of pitches and conditions when India travel to certain places.

Indian players have to step up and follow what Pujara has done. But, as long as they continue to earn a ridiculous amount of money, they will never have the incentive to play county cricket. However, they should realise that they are not only harming themselves, but the entire team as well.

If none of the Indian players were to play any county cricket by the time they travel to Australia in December, this same nightmare will happen again and India will come out looking extremely foolish and red-faced.

Bimal Mirwani