Enough contenders for Team India's middle order

Last Updated: Thu, Jun 07, 2012 06:30 hrs

The A team and the Under-19 concepts have stood Indian cricket in very good stead. It is through these tours that future stars have been unearthed and that's how the reserve bench for the Indian team has been quite strong.

Moreover the rise of these players help keep the established stars on their toes and there is healthy competition for the various slots. Under the circumstances it is encouraging to see the India A team currently in the West Indies even as the Under-19 squad led by Unmukt Chand will be taking part in the Asia Cup in Malaysia later this month.

The India A tour of the West Indies could not have been planned better. The Indian team is in the process of rebuilding following the double debacle in England and Australia. Rahul Dravid has retired, Sachin Tendulkar cannot last for much longer and there has to be some uncertainty about VVS Laxman's future.

There are problems in the bowling department with Zaheer Khan in the twilight of his career and a dearth of good spinners. At a critical phase like this it is time to look forward and fortunately the talent cupboard is not entirely bare.

Despite failures in both England and Australia there is little doubt that Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir should be persevered with at the top. They are too experienced and established as a pair to be discarded so soon. As the most successful opening Indian pair since the legendary duo of Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan who figured in ten three figure partnerships they have earned the right to carry on - at least until they experience another round of failures.

Moreover there are no real adequate replacements with both Murali Vijay and Abhinav Mukund not having come good despite ample opportunities and no other new opening batsman on the horizon.

Fortunately there are enough contenders for the middle order slots and three of them in the current India A squad in West Indies. Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma are fighting it out for two places given the fact that Tendulkar and Virat Kohli will occupy the other two slots. The encouraging factor is the trio has all the qualities required to make the grade in Test cricket.

The ability to play a long innings underlined by their first class averages - Rahane (66), Rohit (63) and Pujara (54) - and in addition they have an ideal temperament and the age old qualities of determination, dedication and concentration. Overall there is nothing really to worry about the future of Indian batting with Tendulkar still around and Kohli having cemented a place in the middle order.

The bowling however is another matter. Zaheer Khan in his 34th year cannot go on for much longer and the recent injuries have not helped his cause. He did put up a gallant show in Australia but it is unlikely that he will be around for more than a year or two. On the face of it there appear to be a number of young fast bowling hopefuls but when you look at the list closely it is doubtful that there will be more than two or three who give the impression that they are ready for the highest level of cricket.

Certainly Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron will have to be the front runners and Ishant Sharma when he recovers from his injury can lay a claim to being the pace spearhead particularly on the basis of what he achieved in the Test series in the West Indies last year. Praveen Kumar is an honest trier but unfortunately he is a bowler who can shine only in certain conditions.

Spin bowling Indian cricket's traditional strength has turned out to be a big weakness of late following the retirement of Anil Kumble and the eclipse of Harbhajan Singh. There has always been an embarrassment of riches as far as Indian spin bowling is concerned and it has been a bit of a shock that Indian spin bowlers have ceased to be a strike force particularly outside India.

The emergence of Ravichandran Ashwin seemed to have filled the breach somewhat but he and Pragyan Ojha have showed that they can excel only on responsive Indian pitches like they did in the home series against West Indies late last year. Piyush Chawla and Amit Mishra have not lived up to their early promise and if Harbhajan continues to remain on the sidelines the best bet appears to be Rahul Sharma currently with the India A team in the West Indies.

The tall 25-year-old leg spinner has variety, maintains a good line and length and can give the ball a healthy tweak. That he loves challenges has been borne out by the fact that he excels in Twenty20 which is a batsman oriented format. It is encouraging that he has been given the chances to try and make his place in the Indian team secure and it is hoped that he makes the most of these opportunities.

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