Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Future Number Three

It is an emotional moment for me. My idol in cricket, and sometimes in life, Rahul Dravid, has just retired from test cricket. I did want to write a post on how I feel about his retirement, but much has been written about him already, and I don't trust my writing skills to do justice to the greatness of the man.If I remember correctly, I stopped supporting the Indian ODI team since Dravid was dropped. I am not sure if I will be supporting the Indian Test team anymore, but I am fairly sure that it depends, in part, on who will be replacing him. 

It will be interesting to see what Dravid's retirement means to the Indian Test team. It has been more than 3 years since Saurav Ganguly retired, and it has taken all that time to find a possible  replacement in Virat Kohli. When Laxman and Sachin retire eventually, India would be left with just four experienced batsmen : Sehwag, Gambhir, Dhoni, and possibly Yuvraj. Of this, only Gambhir has been fairly consistent. The number 3 position occupied by Dravid would be even more crucial, considering that the middle order would be inexperienced. A lot of cricket writers have come out with possible replacements for this position. Since I do not agree with some of their choices, I have set out to list the players that I consider as possible No. 3 batsman. Of these players, the selectors and the team management would be trying out just one or two players initially giving them a long run. Considering that the next few Test matches are being played at home, these two players would have the maximum chance to cement their places.

1) Cheteshwar Pujara
I have listed Pujara first because I have always had a liking for him. Already in the selection committee radar for his perfect technique, he is a classical and orthodox cricketer best suited to replace Dravid at No. 3. He once scored a stunning century in the fourth innings securing an unlikely win for Saurashtra against Karnataka (Rahul Dravid watched this innings first hand, since he was playing for Karnataka). His innings against Australia when he was promoted to number 3 ahead of Dravid led Ian Chappell to write that Dravid must be dropped to make way for this youngster. But, there are a few things going against him. He has just come back from a serious injury, and is yet to make any impression in the domestic matches since his return. While Pujara was nursing his injury, Kohli has cemented his spot, and Rohit almost cemented his spot.

2) Gautam Gambhir
Most people leave out Gambhir's name while talking about the number 3 spot. This is surprising considering that he has done well in this position in ODIs. He is a great player of spin, and has played some wonderful knocks. One may argue that Gambhir is more important as an opener. I don't think so. A lot of openers have been tried by the Indian team in the past few years, and many of them have been fairly successful. There are a few other openers in the reckoning too. If any of them, say a Rahane or a Mukund, could take the role of the opener, Gambhir can play at number 3. This would be ideal, as he can guide the inexperienced middle order too.

3) Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli has already cemented a spot in the playing XI, and only his batting position is yet to be determined. Personally, I feel that a Pujara or a Gambhir would be better replacement for Dravid. But, we are assuming that the spot left by Rahul Dravid must be taken by a player of the same mold. Having such a player would definitely be a advantage, but it is not easy.  Kohli has shown that he is ready to take challenges head-on, and his decent success at Australia would give him immense confidence. Now, if only he tries to play the game in a more dignified manner, we have a long term prospect.

4) Subramaniam Badrinath
Badrinath is a fantastic batsman, who as been on the selector's radar for a very long time. But, I am afraid that he has remained on the radar for too long, and now owing to his age, he is slowly moving away from the radar. He did get a few opportunities at the national level, but he was unable to convert them. He made a half-century on his debut. It is largely felt that he did not get enough chances to prove himself, but he was unlucky to have played in an era when the Indian Test team's middle order was dominated by heavy weights. It would be wonderful to see him get his due at the national level. His style of batting is perfectly suited for the one-drop position

5) Ajinkya Rahane
A lot of cricket experts talk about Rahane being the next big thing. He has been tested only in the shorter formats at the national level, and has had mixed success. But, his debut T20 innings showed him to be a nerveless batsman with a calm head. He too has a lot of domestic runs to back him up. Though he is being touted as a prospect for middle order, I would personally like to see him open the batting with Virendar Sehwag.

Now, if India has to do well as a Test team in the coming years, one of these players would really have to do well. Meanwhile, it would be interesting to see if the two remaining pillars in the team are affected by not having Dravid to consistently see off the new ball.

Do let me know what you think..