India is currently enjoying a rare period of all-round strength in the batting order -- a Golden Era, perhaps? The openers, Sehwag and Gambhir are performing consistently, and the middle-order is dependable. The retirement of Saurav Ganguly has not been keenly felt, because there was a ready replacement (especially for home Tests) in Yuvraj Singh. Nor has the poor form of Rahul Dravid hurt India badly, with Sachin and Laxman making runs. Even the lower order starting with Dhoni has been contributing handsomely, with the likes of Harbhajan and Zaheer scoring important runs.
The last time India had such a solid batting order was probably in the early 1980s, when the Gavaskar-Chauhan pair could be relied upon to do their job, and we had the likes of Vishwanath, Vengsarkar and Mohinder to follow in the middle order. Plus there were regular lower order contributions from Kapil and Kirmani, with gutsy support from Ghavri or Binny. It's a bit sad that ever since Gavaskar retired, India have hardly had a stable, reliable opening pair. In the 1990s, when the middle order was solid (Manjrekar, Azhar, Sachin) the openers were inadequate. And when once in a while the openers did well, the middle order let the team down. This was especially true in overseas tests, leading to the depressing away record in the 1990s.
Which brings us back to the present... The current batting order is clearly solid, but India is in danger of losing three of those middle-order stars in quick succession. Dravid can be relied upon to demostrate his class, and his value to the team, in the upcoming away matches. But he clearly doesn't have too much cricket left in him. The modern-day game doesn't respect the Test specialist, and Dravid has reverted to being one, like his early days. Laxman is in a somewhat similar boat. He keeps demonstrating his value in almost every Test series he plays. But all too often, there are long gaps in between where he's inactive, out of sight, and therefore out of mind. Although he may have plenty of cricket left in him, I fear that the establishment (and that includes the captain and coach) won't be too kind to him.
Sachin is in a different boat -- if he wants to, and if his body allows him to, he can still play all the versions of the game, at the highest levels. But I see signs that his hunger for the game is waning. He now plays mainly for the team, not for the enjoyment of the game. The team needs him to play various roles, with bat in hand and without, on the field and off. And so he does. It helps that India is winning consistently -- that keeps him going, because he didn't have this kind of experience for much of his career. If, in a year or two, he sees that the team no longer needs him as much, I suspect he'll quit. His mentoring job will be done. Observing him during the Ranji trophy final was interesting. He seemed to be somewhat disconnected from the Mumbai team, and certainly not as involved in the proceedings as we're used to seeing. I suspect he's starting to feel the generation gap now, and the motivation is waning.
So I believe this Golden Era of Indian batting is going to end soon, and we're going to have to fill several holes in the middle order. Might as well mention that Sehwag is also on the wrong side of 30... There certainly are a few promising batsmen around, and I'll discuss those in a follow-up post soon.