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Clockwise from top left: Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajaz Patel and Scott Boland. Image Credit: Agencies

Form is temporary, but class is permanent. The phrase is rolled out regularly when cricketers who struggled for runs or wickets strike a purple patch. There’s some truth in the argument since the best players can be frustrated by a lean trot. And when they return to form, the displays are exhilarating. Then it’s time to bring out the phrase on class and form.

The class of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane is unmistakable, but what’s worrying is their form. They are the bulwark of the Indian middle-order, and their poor run of scores is a source of concern. Class has been their lifeline, and both have one more innings each to salvage their international careers. More of that later.

What about Scot Boland and Ajaz Patel? Their fledgling careers may not warrant the class tag, but you cannot dismiss their form. A red-hot form that’s impossible to ignore.

Cricket - Ajaz Patel
Ajaz Patel, the New Zealand left-arm spinner, took 10 wickets in an innings in the second Test against India in December 2021. Image Credit: AFP

Patel is New Zealand’s best Test spinner, yet the left-armer was left out of the home series against Bangladesh. That’s three weeks after he became the third man in 144 years of Test cricket to claim 10 wickets in an innings. Well, it shows how cruel Test cricket can be.

Kiwi head coach Gary Stead was swift to point out the need for “horses for courses”. True, pacemen and trundlers get more purchase and wickets on New Zealand pitches. But this is a country that’s home to Stephen Boock, Headley Howarth, John Bracewell, Daniel Vettori and Dipak Patel. They may not have been world class, but these spinners fulfilled an important role in Tests: grab wickets and take some workload off the speedsters.

A quality spinner need not obtain enough turn. There are other tricks of the trade that help them gain wickets. Ask India’s Anil Kumble. The Indian leg-spinner never turned the ball much but wound up his Test career with 619 wickets.

New Zealand sure is no graveyard for spinners. EAS Prasanna bowled some of his finest spells there in 1968. The off-spinner and left-arm spinner Bishen Singh Bedi spun India to victory in that series. They were masters of flight and deception. Never mind the turn. Patel should convince the Kiwi Test selectors that he can take wickets on New Zealand pitches.

The New Zealand attack looked one-dimensional in the first Test at Mount Maunganui as Bangladesh racked up more than 450 runs in the first innings. Rachin Ravindra is no Ajaz Patel, but he got the nod because of his batting, not his spin bowling. Maybe Patel should hone his batting to complement his bowling and press for selection.

Scott Boland
Scott Boland of Australia claimed six wickets for seven runs from four overs in the third Ashes Test against England at Melbourne in December 2021. Image Credit: Reuters

Australia’s Boland was very lucky. He would have been dropped from the Sydney Test team, days after grabbing 6 wickets for seven runs in a dream four-over spell at Melbourne. If Josh Hazlewood was fit, Boland’s Test career might have fizzled out, especially since at 32, he is not Australia’s fast bowling future.

His axing would have been cruel given Boland’s brilliant form. But skipper Pat Cummins and Australian selectors have more belief in the class of Hazlewood. That’s strange since Boland holds a psychological edge over the England batsmen who floundered against his fast-medium deliveries. The SCG offers Boland a chance to show Cricket Australia that it would have been a mistake to drop him.

That brings us back to the class of Pujara and Rahane, who played stellar roles in the series win in Australia last year. Those brave performances will have a prominent place in the annals of Indian cricket. But the displays since then haven’t been encouraging.

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Both have survived on the strength of past performances. Not exactly ideal in modern cricket, when competition is intense. Their failures were masked by the team’s success but stood out when the Indian batting collapsed. It’s time to bid goodbye to these stalwarts who have served India well.

A good knock followed by extended periods of run-drought doesn’t help. Moreover, it would be sheer injustice to the talents of Hanuma Vihari and Shreyas Iyer. There are many more youngsters whose performances warrant selection to the national side. The old should make for the young, when they cease to perform.

The class and bravado of Pujara and Rahane are still fresh in our minds, but it’s time to move on. The duo could take a leaf out of coach Rahul Dravid’s book. He quit even before questions were asked of his form, although he was the top-scorer in the 2011 England series with three centuries. A disastrous 2011-12 Australian tour convinced Dravid that his time was up. And he walked away.

That is class.