The retirements of Dravid and Laxman, in quick succession, has left a huge void in the Indian middle order. Once reputed for its Fab 4 (Dravid, Sachin, Ganguly, Laxman),the batting line up suddenly looks brittle. Worse yet, we still have not found a replacement for Ganguly, who had retired from Test cricket way back in 2008. Yuvraj and Raina were considered to be the most suitable replacements for Dada. Both of them promised a lot, but none of them delivered. Cheteshwar Pujara, the run machine from the domestic circuit, was drafted into the Indian team owing to his potential of playing long innings. He had a promising debut against the Aussies, and he carried his form onto the tour of SA. It was widely felt that the search for Ganguly’s heir apparent was over. Unfortunately it was short-lived as Pujara, while appearing for KKR in an IPL match, injured himself. The injury was so grave that he was out of action for more than 5-6 months.
Last year was a forgettable year for the Indian Test team. They suffered a humiliating whitewash in England. The Indian batsmen, except for Dravid, had a horrendous time. This was followed by the much anticipated tour Down Under. It was again a nightmare for the batsmen in particular. Even the pillar of Indian batting in the England series, Dravid, had his stumps rattled a number of times. The only bright spot in this shabby display was Virat Kohli, who fought against all odds to score his debut century. Soon, Dravid announced his retirement from all forms of cricket. Laxman followed suit few months later.
How does our batting line up look post Dravid and Laxman’s retirement?
We do not have a problem at the top as we have Sehwag and Gambhir to open the innings. They have showed us time and again what they are capable of. They might be having a bad patch at the moment, but it should not trouble the skipper. The problem lies in the middle order, which is still young and untested. Pujara, Kohli and Raina, along with Tendulkar, make up the middle order. Pujara has shown mettle to play long innings in the domestic circuit. His continued hunger for runs makes him a real asset for the Test side. He has marked his arrival on the Test arena by scoring a masterful century against the Kiwis in the recently concluded Test series. Kohli has performed exceedingly well in the ODIs, and rightly earned the ODI Player of the Year award. He needs to replicate this form in Tests. He has shown glimpses of what he is capable of; he just needs to be consistent. Coming to Raina, his problem with the short balls keeps haunting him. When it comes to ODIs or T20, he is a different player all together. Even the short balls do not seem to trouble him. But when it comes to Test match cricket, the short ball has been his nemesis. I believe its just about having confidence, which I believe Raina lacks when it comes to Test cricket. He needs to have patience and spend some time on the crease; this will do his confidence a world of good. Dhoni needs to bat up the order. He is too good a batsman to come in at number 7. He will get more time to settle, which will help him to get his eye in. When he sets in, he can be at his destructive best. Apart from the current lot, there are a few other players who deserve a place in the Test team. Just to name a few: Manoj Tiwary, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu. Hopefully, we shall get to see them don Indian colours sooner than later.
The advent of T20 cricket (read: IPL) has resulted in players resorting to play attacking cricket, which entertains the crowd. Most players do not believe in the old school of thought: leave the good balls and punish the bad ones. Test cricket is a different ball game. It involves high level of concentration and its a real test of character. You need to have immense patience and maintain vigil for hours at a stretch. This can be mentally and physically exhausting. This why its said that Test cricket is the real form of cricket. Our younger batsmen should take a cue from Dravid or Tendulkar on how to pace your innings. They need to be solid in defence and yet attack the loose balls. They should have the patience to bat for long hours, and put a price on their wickets. Great batsmen always make bowlers toil for their wicket. If I were to pick a batsman from the present middle order, one who has the best test match temperament, it will have to be Pujara. He has never failed to impress me with his grit and determination. This man is the next Dravid in the making. No doubt he has a long way to go, but at least he is on the right track.
Unlike our batting, our bowling looks pretty good.We have spinners in the form of Ashwin and Ojha, a pace battery comprising of Zaheer, Umesh and Ishant. In all, our bowling has the capability of bowling out the opposition twice, provided they play to their potential. Add to that, Ashwin is no mug with the bat, for he averages above 30 in Tests, which is simply remarkable for a lower-order batsman.
The young brigade is fortunate to have Dhoni as their captain, for he backs them, which is necessary, for they have to be given ample chances to prove their mettle. You do not become a Dravid or a Laxman in a day, you need to play a number of Test matches. More Test matches mean you get to spend more time on the field. This really helps in the development of the cricketer.
We have a long season ahead, wherein we will host England and the Aussies. This will be a real test of our younger team under Dhoni. This might shape the composition of our future test team. We might get new Dravids, Tendulkars and Laxmans. We have to wait and watch.