Amidst all the hoopla around the tour to Australia—being touted as the ‘Battle Royale’, a fight for ascendancy and honor, a reiteration of our grit, and all the rest—we seem to be missing a far more intriguing point. This will perhaps be the last time we’d be seeing the three Greats of Indian Test Cricket—Tendulkar, Laxman and Dravid, together in a series overseas. As poignant as that though is, it is also equally disturbing for all ardent cricket fans—who’d surface as the new sentinel of Indian Cricket, is the big question. Until now, the trio had held fort—and hence both our present and future looked secure, but with their inevitable goodbyes coming close, there seems to be a dire urgency to look for people to fill their slots. But these are rather big shoes to fill and perhaps, will never be filled with the same authority. The reason though is not a lack of talent—we have enough to be proud of, but for the sheer amount of cricket that these talented cricketers are made to play in today’s day and age. The juggle between three formats is bound to take its toll and hence it is rather naïve to believe that players of this generation will last 2 decades of International cricket. In the current circumstances, it would be advisable to not look too far ahead and focus on immediate replacements.
With thousands of runs scored in every first-class season, ideally we should be spoilt for choices but unfortunately, that’s not the case. Most of the runs scored are on placid batting surfaces against mediocre bowling attacks and in not-so-significant matches—we need to dig a little deeper to separate chalk from cheese. That’s what I’d try to do here—have a closer look at the possible candidates to fill the middle-order slots when the opportunity arises.
Virat Kohli—he’s arguably the best thing to have happened to Indian cricket in the last few years. He started as a young hard-hitting batsman, but was soon found guilty of throwing away the starts. Over the last couple of years, his transition from being a boy to a man has been seamless. He’s matured with every game and acknowledged the importance of converting starts into big match winning knocks. His appetite for runs seems insatiable and makes him the frontrunner for the number 3 slot. Though he looks comfortable against pace in shorter formats, he still needs to work a lot on the way he handles short-pitched stuff in Test matches. While his technique looks almost perfect to suit the demands of fifty overs cricket, he may have to move his feet a bit more and also ensure that the front-foot doesn’t fall too across to succeed in the longer format, especially in seamer-friendly conditions.
Cheteshwar Pujara—if I wanted someone to bat to save my life, it would be the man from Saurashtra. He’s technically very correct and also has the penchant for scoring big runs. On tricky surfaces where most young batsmen play shot-a-ball to get out of the jail, he trusts his technical ability to bail him out. He uses his feet beautifully against spinners, is equally comfortable against pace and most importantly knows the art of batting time. He could be the man to bat at number 4 for India in Test cricket.
Rohit Sharma—he’s blessed with great balance and an amazing sense of timing. Even though his movements look slow to an onlooker, he gets in the right positions much before the ball arrives, which means he gets a lot of time to react to every delivery. Pace doesn’t bother him and neither does the bounce. There aren’t any obvious chinks in his armory except his own temperament. He can play orthodox and somewhat conservative cricket also but often allows his ego to get the better of him. He doesn’t appreciate a bowler keeping him quiet for too long or even not complying to his need to break free. Off late, he’s managed to curb this instinct and it’s already showing in his consistency. He can be the man to bat at number 5 provided he keeps that hunger alive.
Ajinkya Rahane—he’s only 23 and has already scored 18 first-class centuries with an average of over 60 runs per innings. I’m not a numbers man but these numbers are too gigantic to be ignored. And it’s not just the numbers Rahane boasts of; he’s a fine player with a heady mix of correct technique, temperament to bat for long and a bit of aggression to boot. In the limited International exposure, he’s looked very much a part of the big league. In my opinion the biggest challenge he faces is his slot in the batting order. Though he’s selected as an opener, he’s not yet ready to face the new ball in the longer format. And you wouldn’t blame the man either, for he’s rarely opened for Mumbai in the Ranji trophy. He’ll have to tighten his technique a bit more to succeed as an opener in the longer format.
Badrinath/Raina—the former ticks all the boxes for selection but continues to find the cold shoulder from the men who matter. Perhaps, they’ve decided to look ahead of him. The latter, on the contrary, had everything going in his favor to cement his place in the Test side before anyone else but he let that opportunity slip. If he wants to get back into the scheme of things for the longer format, before tackling the bouncers, he must find ways to fight the demons inside his head. He’s a talented batsman but talent can take you only so far.
This entry was posted on Friday, December 30th, 2011 at 5:36 am
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