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Here are the ones waiting in the wings

By Aakash Chopra
Monday, January 09, 2022
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As the hoopla over the tour to Australia — which was touted as the ‘Battle Royale’, a fight for ascendancy and honor, a reiteration of our grit, and all the rest — fizzles out with India going 2-0 down we seem to be missing a far more intriging point. This will perhaps be the last time we would be seeing the three Greats of Indian Test cricket —Tendulkar, Laxman and Dravid — together in a series overseas. As poignant as that is, it is also equally disturbing for all ardent cricket fans — who would surface as the new sentinel of Indian cricket is the big question. Until now, the trio had held fort — and hence both our present and future looked secure, but with their inevitable goodbyes coming close, there seems to be a dire urgency to look for people to fill their slots. But these are rather big shoes to fill and perhaps, will never be filled with the same authority.

With thousands of runs scored in every first-class season, ideally we should be spoilt for choices but unfortunately, that’s not the case. Most of the runs scored are on placid batting surfaces against mediocre bowling attacks and in not-so-significant matches — we need to dig a little deeper to separate chalk from cheese. That’s what I would try to do here — have a closer look at the possible candidates to fill the middle order slots when the opportunity arises.

POSSIBLE CANDIDATES

CHETESHWAR PUJARA

IF I WANTED someone to bat to save my life, it would be the man from Saurashtra. He is technically correct and has the penchant for scoring big runs. On tricky surfaces where most youngsters 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 to bat at No 4 for India.

ROHIT SHARMA

HE IS BLESSED with great balance and an amazing sense of timing. Even though his movement look slow to an outlooker, he gets in the right position much before the ball arrives, which means he gets a lot of time to react to a delivery. There aren’t any obvious chinks in his armoury except his 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. Of late, he has managed to curb this instinct and it’s already showing in his consistency. He can be the man to bat at No 5 if he keeps that hunger alive.

AJINKYA RAHANE

HE IS ONLY 23 and has already scored 18 first-class centuries with over 60 runs per innings. I am not a numbers’ man but these numbers are too gigantic to be ignored. And it’s not just the number Rahane boasts of. He is fine player with heady mix of correct technique, temperament to bat for long and a bit of aggression to boot. In the limited over international exposure, he has looked very much a part of the big league. The biggest challenge he faces is his slot in the batting order. Though he is selected as an opener, he is not yet ready to face the new ball in the longer format. And you wouldn’t blame the man either, for he has rarely opened for Mumbai.

S BADRINAT/ SURESH RAINA

THE FORMER TICKS all the boxes for selection but continues to find the cold shoulder from the men who matter. Perhaps, they have decided to look ahead of him. The latter, on the contrary, had everything going in his favour 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 Tests, before tackling the bouncers, he must find ways to fight the demons inside his head.

VIRAT KOHLI

HE IS ARGUABLY best thing to have happened to Indian cricket in the last few years. He’s matured with every game and acknowledged the importance of converting starts into big match winning knocks. Though he looks comfortable against pace in shorter formats, he still needs to work a lot on handling short-pitched stuff in Tests. While his technique looks almost perfect to suit the demands of 50-overs cricket, he may have to move his feet a bit more and also ensure that the front-foot doesn’t fall too across to succeed in the longer format, especially in seamer-friendly conditions.

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