For many years, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman formed the backbone of India’s Test batting. Then Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir emerged as India’s greatest Test opening pair of all time.
Where would India find even a fraction of that talent when the Super Six retired? Getting re-inforcements for even one of these greats seemed be a tough task indeed.
While Ganguly was in and out of the Test team after he was stripped of his captaincy, he played his last Test in November 2008. And India struggled to replace Dada in the regular line-up.
Yuvraj Singh played musical chairs with his long-format career appearing in a whopping 40 Tests without ever being sure of his place. Suresh Raina impressed, scoring a century on debut and also played 17 Tests without gaining anywhere near permanency.
The turning point came in the 2011 tour of Australia. Virat Kohli became the only batsman to score a Test century in that series and was the highest run-getter from the Indian side. If someone thought he was the last piece of the old order, then he merely happened to be the first piece of the new.
Kohli has since scored a century in every Test series he has played and emerged as our top run getter in all three forms of the game in 2012! Kohli showed his mettle in the last Test of the England series last year when he hit a gritty 295-ball 100+ at Nagpur. His 500 odd ball partnership with captain MS Dhoni shows that he has the right temperament for Tests.
Dravid surprised everyone by announcing his retirement. Who would replace The Wall? The 1 down position in Test cricket is crucial, especially with the recent failures of the opening pair and India’s tendency for top order collapses.
Cheteshwar Pujara stepped in. Since August last year, Pujara has already cracked three 150+ scores in Tests. After 12 matches, he has an average of 60+. What more can we ask for?
Next to go was VVS Laxman. Interestingly, Dhoni decided to step in his shoes and didn’t disappoint. A blistering double century in the first Test saw a great victory which set the tone for the series. Interestingly, Dhoni has come 4 down 13 times in Tests and averages close to 70 in that position.
Before the current Australia tour, the selectors decided to break the Gambhir-Sehwag partnership. Gambhir was dropped. In stepped Murli Vijay. Vijay has already hit back to back 150s in the current Australia series and that also includes back to back 250+ partnerships!
High on the performance of newcomers, Sehwag was the next to be axed. Now it would be absolutely impossible to fill his boots. But India would continue to be surprised. Shikhar Dhawan cracked the fastest Test century on debut on his way to a sterling 187 off 174 balls. He is definitely one to watch out for the future.
Dhawan should also be included in both the ODI and international T20 teams.
In their very first Test opening partnership, Vijay and Dhawan put on 289 runs. The Sehwag-Gambhir partnership already feels like history.
So the last piece in the old jigsaw puzzle in Sachin Tendulkar. He hasn’t scored a century in more than two years. He scores a 50 once in a while. His Test average in the last 1 year is a low 26. Had anyone else given such a performance, he would have been dropped long ago.
Ajinkya Rahane has a first class average of 62. He has been warming the bench for too long. He definitely deserves a Test debut soon. It would be a good idea to rest Sachin and let Rahane play in the fourth Test.
It is amazing that India’s greatest ever batting order could never give us a 3-0 in any Test series. But that is something that the new order has given us with all of them scoring centuries in this series: 224 (Dhoni), 204 (Pujara), 187 (Dhawan), 167 & 153 (Vijay) and 107 (Kohli). The baton has truly passed.
Sachin is merely a spectator, or more accurately, a passenger.
Finally, Dhoni, by virtue of recent events, retains his place as captain and wicketkeeper. His three straight fours to win us the match and go 3-0 were like routine affairs for Dhoni.
R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Ravindra Jadeja have emerged as our new spin troika.
Of course the fast bowling scenario will never change. We will keep getting newcomers and bowlers will keep getting injured. The selection will always be from the small pool of uninjured and in form fast medium bowlers.
The latest talent is Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who looks like he’ll be a real threat on foreign green pitches. It is befitting that the next tour is South Africa, which is currently the toughest place to win Tests.
All those who can survive that ordeal will star for India for many years to come.
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/