Saturday, 6 August 2011

Team India On The Look-Out For Young Stars

While this tour of England has been a logistical disaster, so far it has also been a batting failure for India. Yes, Rahul Dravid has stood out, VVS Laxman has produced a couple of half-centuries and Sachin Tendulkar has shown fleeting glimpses of his greatness, but 15 years after the three first played for India together there doesn't seem to be a challenger in sight. India know, and England do too, that it is this triumvirate, collectively aged 112, that holds the key to India's batting.

To be honest, I would have expected a challenger to have emerged by now. Rahul Dravid went through a lean patch - now delightfully erased - but there should have been a youngster snapping at his heels. And for all his great form over the last two years, Laxman should have been looking behind him to check who is on the way. It hasn't happened and while we have seen vignettes of ability, a challenger hasn't stood up yet to be counted as a replacement to either of these great cricketers.

Suresh Raina scored a debut century and occasionally shows that there is more to him than just a confident limited-overs player. Abhinav Mukund has had a mixed initiation to international cricket; he's made a few runs but top bowlers know where to bowl to him. Murali Vijay looked a classy player but hasn't utilised his opportunities and even Virat Kohli, who we all thought was ready for Test cricket, had a rough entry into the game in the West Indies. And sadly, Cheteshwar Pujara, who looked a really good player against Australia a year ago, has been felled by injury too often.

Kohli might, however, get another chance now that Yuvraj Singh has had to pull out of the England tour due to injury. If the West Indies were tough, England could very well prove to be a bigger hurdle for the young man, but that is what true champions are made of! We saw how Stuart Broad, to devastating effect, bounced back against India after an ordinary series when facing the Lankans and Kohli, I'm sure, has enough class to make it in the big leagues.

There is another factor. This is the first generation of players who will make the move from T20 and 50-over cricket to Tests. Hitherto, it has been the other way around and we will know whether coming down from Test cricket to limited-overs cricket (see how my generation still says "coming down"!) is easier than moving up from the more instant form of the game. Recent evidence, especially in rather more demanding conditions, suggests that the more complete Test batsman will find it easier, but we must wait and see how the generation of Kohli, Pujara and Rohit Sharma fares. To that list add Ajinkya Rahane and maybe a couple of years of Subramaniam Badrinath.

But until such time it seems that the trio of Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman can choose when to retire. It is unlikely they will be pushed in the near future; certainly that is what the news from England is!

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