Sachin Tendulkar will be playing his last couple of Test matches soon, bringing down the curtains on a wonderful career that spanned twenty-four years. And while some of his records may withstand the test of time, the question that will haunt selectors, players and fans alike is this.
Who will step into the great man’s shoes in the longest format?
First and foremost, the Mumbai stalwart cannot be replaced. Period. He may have slow reflexes on the field, and may not be enjoying the game as much as he used to, but it is difficult to imagine a Test team without him.
However, the journey of the national squad must go on, and the five wise men must have a succession plan in place, keeping the future in mind.
Here are five players who can try to replace the Master Blaster – I use the word ‘try’ because they may never be able to replicate the kind of benchmarks that Sachin has set.
The Rajasthan Royals’ opening batsman is technically gifted, but he will need to curb his attacking instincts if he wishes to make a mark in white flannels.
Rahane’s strengths lie in his ability to pierce the gaps with surgical precision, and he can play the big shots as well. But Test cricket requires oodles of patience, grit and old-school style of play, and the 25-year old has got the right occasion to establish himself in this version – Tendulkar’s exit from the game.
Sense and sensibility – Rahane will have to incorporate these two themes into his batting, and with consistency, he can overtake his fellow contenders in the race to step into the huge void caused by the exit of the Little Master.
The stylish Mumbai batsman has already carved a place for himself in the limited-overs formats with some scintillating knocks at the top of the order in recent times. However, when it comes to Test cricket, he has faced a bit of resistance from other contenders.
Sachin’s retirement opens up a lot of possibilities, and Rohit has the natural talent to take his spot, with sublime wrist-work and immaculate timing. But he has to remain consistent and not give in to the pressure to score big at a rapid pace.
For someone who gives the impression of having that extra half a second to play the ball, Rohit has long been considered a wasted talent. This is his one chance for redemption, and he needs to take it with both hands.
The energetic Tamil Nadu dasher has had the opportunity to play for the nation in all three formats – Tests, ODIs and Twenty20s. He hasn’t exactly been able to cement his spot in any of them, for quite some time, though.
As a specialist batsman, Karthik has played good knocks in the four-day version of the domestic tournaments. However, with the presence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as the first-choice wicket-keeper, the South Zone player has found it difficult to hold on to a spot.
With Sachin walking off into the sunset of his career, it opens up a position in the middle order for Karthik to get a foot into the national squad. He would have to fight off challenges from the likes of Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Badrinath and a few others in order to get in there though. Only consistent performances can help his cause now.
The 30-year old Mumbai all-rounder has been the bulwark of the batting in the longer format of the domestic arena, and brings in a level-headed and mature approach to his game.
Nayar has been around long enough to understand the uncertainties that define cricket, and like Subramaniam Badrinath, he too has been a victim of the Great Indian Cricketing Circus. When he wields the willow, there is always a sense of calm in the dressing room – he can deftly switch from grafting to attacking to just presenting a dead bat, and he does it so skilfully you’re lost.
With the ball, the all-rounder has been found wanting in the past, but his medium-pace has proved to be handy on more than one occasion. He will have big shoes to fill if he wants to make the side for the longest format.
This may exactly be the right choice for Sachin’s spot in the Test team, though at 33, the veteran Tamil Nadu batsman might have only a few years of cricket left in him.
Since the mid-2000s, Badri has hardly made a wrong move. In domestic cricket, he is Goliath incarnate, wielding his bat like a submachine gun as he blasts away at the opposition bowlers. And when the situation is dire, he slips into the role of a predator, watchful and precise in his movements.
Consistent performances have gone unnoticed by the selectors many times, and only on the 2011 West Indies tour did he break into the ODI side. Just two Test matches – in the first, he was pitchforked into the side due to injuries to other members – do not define the calibre this man possesses.
If experience is all that is mandatory, then Badri is the ideal candidate to play at No.4.