BANGALORE: Now that Rahul Dravid has hung his boots from international cricket, the uppermost concern dogging the cricket-crazy country is who is next Dravid in the making!
The frontrunner among the youngsters who could fill in Dravid's big shoes are Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane.
23-year-old Kohli, who was elevated to vice-captaincy for the ODI format, has shown that he has the talent and temperament to occupy that crucial number three slot in Test cricket for the Indian team.
He has proved that he belonged at the highest levels in the longest format in India's disastrous Test tour of Australia. On a tour in which India's senior batsmen struggled throughout, Kohli stood out, scoring India's only Test hundred - a mature, composed innings in Adelaide.
In the eight Tests he has played so far, he has scored 491 runs at an average of 32.73.
Another candidate is the Mumbai top-order batsman Rohit Sharma. He has the talent and technique but lacks in fitness and consistency and is yet to play long innings consistently in the longer format after the 2008-09 Ranji season.
24-year-old Rohit has a very good ODI record with 1889 runs from 77 matches at an average of 33.14 but is yet to test his temperament at the Test level.
Another Mumbai batsman Rahane has shown that he can bat for long hours and grind for runs. He has scored heavily for Mumbai at number three and four in Ranji Trophy in the last few years.
The 23-year-old right-handed batsman has continued to churn out the runs in domestic cricket, hitting three hundreds each in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons of the Ranji Trophy.
Two centuries in the Emerging Players Tournament in Australia brought him a place in the India ODI squad for the tour of England in 2011 but he is yet to make his Test debut.
Another claimant to the pivotal number three Test spot is 24-year-old Saurashtra batsman Cheteshwar Pujara, known for his solid techniques.
His technique is tailor-made for Test cricket. It may be too early to draw comparison with 'The Wall', but looking at his first class batting record, one gets the feeling that Pujara is the rightly being called the next Dravid.
Scoring tons of runs in first class cricket at an average of 53.50 over the years, Pujara made the opportunity count by scoring an excellent 72 in a tricky fourth-innings run-chase in 2010 Bangalore Test against Australia. In the process, he became only the fifth Indian to score 50 or more in the fourth innings on debut.
Pujara, who had three triple centuries in domestic cricket prior to 2009, was sent up the order at number three in place of Dravid in a tactical change by captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni which turned out to be a masterstroke as India went on to win the Test by seven wickets.
In the three Tests he has played so far, Pujara scored 107 runs at an average of 21.40.
Pujara, who is out of the game since 2011 IPL due to a knee injury, keeps his game simple and plays within his limitations. His technique is in classical mould -- upright at the crease and play with a midas touch on both sides of the field.
Pujara was a prodigy at age-level cricket, finishing the 2006 U-19 World Cup as the highest scrorer with 349 runs. He has already displayed his hunger for big scores with a triple-century against Baroda at Under-14 level, a double against England Under-19, and 145 for Saurashtra in his second first-class match.