2014 was going to be a touch year as far as Indian cricket was concerned. After all, when the year began, they were already in South Africa, participating in a two-Test series. This was to be followed by a tour of New Zealand, after which India headed to England, and finally to Australia, where they presently are. In between, they hosted West Indies and Sri Lanka at home. Clearly, it was a year that was going to test the Indian players no end, and go some way in separating the boys from the men. That has quite been the case. While some have flourished under the tough challenges, a couple of others have faltered and disappointed in a big way.
Two names which instantly come to mind are opener Shikhar Dhawan and number three Cheteshwar Pujara. Both of them have had incredible starts to their Test careers, but the last 12 months have been a massive eye opener for them, a reality check of sorts. They had tasted amazing success in home conditions, but have failed to repeat the same while playing abroad. Pujara, whose technique was his forte, and was being annoited as the next Wall, has crumbled under pressure time and again. The marathon knocks that were expected of him, something which he did consistently at home, have just not come, apart from the 153 at Johannesburg.
Dhawan, on the other hand, has been exposed for his lack of technique, and his inability to keep out the new ball. In England and Australia, he has constantly been tested outside the off-stump, and has failed to pass the stern test. In many ways, he has been like Sadagopan Ramesh, the former India opener, who got many a starts during his career, but converted very few. He may have had a sensational start to his Test career, with that sparkling 187 on debut against the Aussies at Mohali last year. But, take out the couple of knocks in New Zealand, and the left-hander has pretty much been feeding on that debut hundred for over a year.
In hindsight, it seems that playing more of their earlier international games at home has made things tougher for both Dhawan and Pujara. They haven't been able to rise to the occasion on the big stage away from home. In stark contrast, Ajinkya Rahane has played most of his Tests away from home, and has looked in complete control. Be it in South Africa, England or now in Australia, Rahane has outshone Dhawan and Pujara, who were expected to do better, by some distance. He has proved that talent alone is not enough to succeed at the top level. A sound technique and a level head are also required.
As we head into 2015, Dhawan and Pujara must introspect on what they did wrong in the year. Both need to go back to the drawing board, and analyse the flaws in their game. Pujara was said to possess a wonderful technique, but it has been evident in recent times, he has some work to do on the same. As for Dhawan, he certainly has plenty to ponder upon as far as his batting is concerned. His technique and temperament both have come under question. With the New Year coming in, both Pujara and Dhawan will be hoping for reversal of fortunes. But, they will need to work extremely hard towards achieving the same.
--By A Cricket Analyst