Cheteshwar Pujara
Cheteshwar Pujara (Credits: Twitter)

Graeme Swann, the former England off-spinner has backed Cheteshwar Pujara to potentially replace opener skipper Rohit Sharma for the Birmingham Test between India and England commencing July 1. He believes the Saurashtra batter could replace Rohit Sharma if he doesn’t recover from COVID-19 in time for the rescheduled Test.

Speaking in a media interaction on Monday, Graeme Swann suggested that Cheteshwar Pujara could open the innings while Mayank Agarwal could be slotted into the middle order. He added that the 34-year-old’s recent county stint with Sussex was a big plus for the visitors.

Cheteshwar Pujara in action. (Pic: Getty)
Cheteshwar Pujara in action. (Pic: Getty)

Graeme Swann: Cheteshwar Pujara Was Phenomenal For Sussex

The cricketer-turned-commentator pointed out that Cheteshwar Pujara showcased tremendous form while playing for Sussex in the County Championship 2022. He highlighted that the right-hander would be well accustomed to the conditions in England.

Graeme Swann stated: “Definitely having Cheteshwar Pujara played a lot of county cricket at the start of the year and do phenomenally well as he scored heaps of runs. He was phenomenal for Sussex, I think that is a massive bonus for India.”

He added: “Having a player who has been in England at the start of the season when the ball swings around, scoring so heavily and used to English conditions that definitely gives him leg up the ladder.”

Graeme Swann © Getty Images
Graeme Swann © Getty Images

Swann praised Mayank Agarwal but picked Pujara over him to open the innings, saying: “I really like Mayank Agarwal, he is a wonderful player. I don’t think he is someone who has to open the batting so I would happily see Cheteshwar Pujara open the batting (if Rohit Sharma isn’t available), but it depends on Indian selectors if they want to or not and move everyone around him.”

Cheteshwar Pujara made a significant impact in the County Championship 2022 after being dropped from India’s Test side earlier this year. The seasoned campaigner mustered 720 runs in five games for Sussex and was able to make a comeback to the national side because of it.

In 2020, he averaged 20.38 in the 4 Test matches that he played, and in 2021, he played 14 Tests and could only average 28.08 which is not great when one looks at a batter-like him.

The 34-year-old Cheteshwar Pujara, who was left out of India’s home Test series against Sri Lanka earlier this year, forced his way back into the national team for the fifth Test against England after scoring 720 runs in just 5 matches with an outstanding average of 120 for Sussex. While in the Ranji Trophy 2022, he scored an 83-ball 91 against Mumbai, he hit four centuries, including two double centuries for Sussex in Division Two County Championships.

Graeme Swann Reckons England Would Start Favourites

Graeme Swann also suggested that hosts England have a slight advantage over India in the impending one-off Test. He highlighted the Three Lions’ exceptional performance against New Zealand as they completed a whitewash in a three-match series.

He added that while England has played three Tests at home, India has had a chance to play just a single warmup game against Leichester prior to the crucial red-ball fixture. The 43-year-old opined that the hosts have a number of players like Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, and James Anderson who are in the form of their lives.

Graeme Swann explained: “England are in a very good position and I would say they are slight favorites because of that series (against New Zealand). And the fact that India just had one (warm-up) game in England, so they are coming in cold (for) the Test match, which is a bit of disadvantage. They (England) have got the three Test matches under their belt, so that makes them pre-game favorites.”

England (Credits: Twitter)

“It is a real bad time to play England because they just played these three games against New Zealand. You are going to face an England team where Joe Root is back to his absolute best, where Ollie Pope is playing his best-ever for England. Ben Stokes has amalgamated the team and got (them) playing in an ultra-positive and rock and roll fashion,” said Graeme Swann.

India and England will battle it out in the rescheduled fifth Test at Edgbaston in Birmingham from July 1. The first four fixtures of the red-ball rubber were played last year and India currently leads the series by 2-1.  England will not have Jos Buttler, Ollie Robinson, or Moeen Ali for the 5th Test against India. Instead, the ECB has retained almost the same squad that thrashed World Test Champion New Zealand 3-0 in the Test series.

England squad for India Test: Ben Stokes (C), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow (WK), Sam Billings (WK), Stuart Broad, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Foakes (WK), Jack Leach, Alex Lees, Craig Overton, Jamie Overton, Matthew Potts, Ollie Pope, Joe Root

India Test squad: Rohit Sharma (capt), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Hanuma Vihari, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rishabh Pant (wk), KS Bharat (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Prasidh Krishna, Mayank Agarwal.