Amidst the fuss around the tour of Australia — being touted as the battle royale, a fight for ascendancy and honour, a reiteration of our grit, and all the rest — we’re missing a far more intriguing point.
This will perhaps be the last time we’d be seeing the three greats — Tendulkar, Laxman and Dravid — together in an overseas series. That’s a poignant thought for ardent fans who await the surfacing of Indian cricket’s new sentinels.
With them, we looked secure. Now as their inevitable goodbyes draw close, there’s a dire urgency to find their replacements. Perhaps, there will never be like-for-like replacements.
The reason isn’t lack of talent — we have enough to be proud of — but the strain on players. Juggling three formats will take its toll and it would be naïve to believe that current players will last two decades in international cricket. Hence it would be advisable to not look too far ahead and focus on immediate replacements.
With thousands of runs scored every First Class season, we should be spoilt for choices. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. These runs are largely scored on placid pitches against mediocre attacks in not-so-significant matches. We need to dig deeper, separate chalk from cheese. That’s what I’m trying to do here: cast a closer look at possible replacements.
Arguably the best thing to have happened to Indian cricket in recent years. He started as a hard-hitting batsman, but was found guilty of throwing away the starts. In the last two years, he has transitioned from boy to man. 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 No. 3 slot. Though he looks comfortable against pace in shorter formats, he needs to work on the way he handles short-pitched stuff in Tests. His technique looks almost perfect for fifty-over cricket. In Tests, he may have to move his feet a bit more and also ensure that the front-foot doesn’t fall too across, especially in seamer-friendly conditions.
If I wanted someone to bat for my life, it would be the man from Saurashtra. He’s technically very correct and has the penchant for the big scores. 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 take Tendulkar’s No. 4 position.
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 bounce. There aren’t any obvious chinks in his armour 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 No. 5 provided he keeps that hunger alive.
He’s only 23 and has already scored 18 First Class centuries with an average of over 60. 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 technique, temperament to bat long, and a bit of aggression. In limited international exposure, he’s looked very much 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 ready yet to face the new ball in Tests. 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.
S Badrinath/Suresh 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 favouring him 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.