Sunday, January 18, 2009

India's batting -- who's next?

My previous post speculated that we have seen the Golden Era of Indian batting, with the likes of Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly.  This era is clearly ending, so it's natural to wonder -- and worry -- what next?  Or more properly, who's next?

An inevitable side-effect of a successful team with several greats is that a whole generation (in cricketing terms) finds itself shut out of the team.  In the 1960s and 1970s, India's spin quartet of Bedi, Chandra, Prasanna and Venkat was so well-established that their competitors on the domestic scene totally missed out on Test cricket.  The likes of Paddy Shivalkar, Rajinder Goel and V.V. Kumar would have walked into most Test sides of their day, barring the Indian side!  Dilip Doshi was unlucky as well, since the early part of his career overlapped with Bedi.  By the time he made it to the Test side, he was on the wrong side of 30.

A similar situation has prevailed with the Indian batting over the past decade.  Quality batsmen like Amol Muzumdar, Hemang Badani, Badrinath, Yuvraj Singh and Mohd. Kaif had little or no opportunity to play Test cricket.  Yuvraj and Kaif at least got plenty of opportunity to show their wares in the limited overs game, but as they themselves will aver, that's not "the real thing".  Now that the spots are opening up in the Test batting order, Kaif, Badri and co. are the lost generation -- too old to be considered long-term prospects for the side, and too young to be forgotten totally.  They'll probably soldier on in domestic cricket for a few years, but are hardly likely to have Test careers worth speaking of.

So, who then can India look to for the future?  Limited-overs cricket, and domestic cricket, have thrown up several names.  How suitable, and ready, are they for Tests though?  Consider Suresh Raina for example.  Still only 22, he's certainly a candidate for the long term.  He's proved himself to be a useful performer in the one-day format, but does he have the ability to build long innings?  That remains to be tested.

The same might be said of 21-year-old Rohit Sharma.  Until this domestic season, he had done practically nothing of note in the first-class game.  However, two things go in his favour: (1) His performances in this year's Ranji trophy, including a big double hundred and a 141 under pressure in the final, and (2) his natural talent!  Just watching him play for a brief while makes it obvious.  The fluidity of his movements at the crease, the timing of the ball, the smooth follow-through, and even his graceful fielding, all point to a natural-born cricketer.

Another batsman with potential is Virat Kohli.  As a limited-overs batsman, I think he's a shoo-in for the future India side.  He has also started his first-class career well, with some good knocks for Delhi.  His technique seems a bit loose currently, and he hasn't really been tested on bowler-friendly pitches.  But of course he's very young, so there's hope that he will learn to adapt to the different forms of the game, at the highest level.

Notice that all these candidates are naturally aggressive batsmen, brought up in the era of ODIs and T20s.  Would any of them be able to play a sheet-anchor innings?  Who can replace The Wall in the Indian lineup?

If Dravid goes soon, India will need a short-term, stop-gap replacement for him.  None of these kids can play that role against top-class pace bowling, in bowler-friendly conditions.  I'd suggest falling back on a couple of tried-and-tested performers -- Aakash Chopra and Wasim Jaffer.  Both of them are openers, and can move down to #3 without breaking a sweat.  Both of them have Test experience and maturity on their side.  They're not young, but they do have 3-4 years of cricket left in them.  And if form deserts one of the openers, they'd be ready and willing to step in there too, at short notice.

In the longer term though, Cheteshwar Pujara seems like a strong candidate for the job.  He's only about 21 currently, and has just had a barnstorming season of domestic cricket.  The biggest positive is that he's shown the ability to play the long innings, piling up huge double and triple hundreds.  However his technique and temperament has not really been tested yet.  His home ground of Rajkot is famous for its placid pitch.  And the only time he came up against a strong pace attack (vs. Mumbai in the semis), he failed.  Sadly, big Ranji performances aren't a reliable indicator of batting talent -- remember the likes of W.V.Raman and Raman Lamba scoring multiple triple-tons in Ranji/Duleep matches?  So, some question marks remain, but Pujara's clearly a great prospect.  Taking him on some India-A tours will help.

Apart from these, there are a few other young batsmen clamouring for the selectors' attention -- the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Shikhar Dhawan and Tanmay Srivastava.  So overall, I'm not too worried by the upcoming end of the Golden Era...  While these guys won't be as good as Sachin, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly right away, the future of Indian batting seems to be in good hands.


Harimohan said...

Hi Neeran,
Interesting analysis and quite comprehensive as well. The one batsman that comes to my mind is M. Vijay, the Tamil Nadi batsman who made his debut against the Aussies. I rate him highly. Also I think that Dravid, Tendulkar and Sehwag will certainly play for another year or two so we have that much time to uncover some quality batsmen. Am reading your previous blogs one by one and will respond individually to each.

Neeran Karnik said...

Thanks Hari. I haven't had a chance to see M.Vijay in action, beyond what we saw in the one Test vs. the Aussies. But yes, he's certainly coming on nicely as a contender.

Some of these guys will get opportunities in ODIs and tour games (and IPL, not to forget!) while Dravid and co. fade away. But I fear for the likes of Vijay and Pujara, who might not get those opportunities to be in the limelight.

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