By Madan Mohan
He was around for years and years when Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman debuted for Team India. But to expect him to bat on for a similar period after they retired was perhaps asking too much. Sachin Tendulkar announced his intention to retire from Test cricket after his 200th Test, which should happen in the upcoming home series against West Indies. Having already signed off from One-Day Internationals and opted out of Twenty 20 Internationals, this also marks the end of Tendulkar’s international career. It’s also the end of an era of great Indian batsmanship.
Tendulkar gave early notice of his greatness and began to compile tons in Test cricket in the early 90s. But there was little support for him in the batting line up in away fixtures. The 1992 Test against Australia in Perth is a case in point (where he scored 114 out of a team score of 272). Observers lamented that the team’s weakness didn’t allow him too many chances to convert his talent into victories.
That changed in 1996 when Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman earned spots in the Indian batting line-up. By 2001, both batsmen had well and truly sealed their place in the side, with not a lot of help from impatient critics, and one of the great batting line ups of the noughties began to blossom. The moniker “Big Three” was coined to refer to the great Indian middle order of Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman.
Sourav Ganguly and even Virender Sehwag are often included in this group, making it the “Big Five”. I won’t do likewise because Sehwag is not a contemporary of these players and, at least theoretically, still has a chance of wresting back his spot and resuming his Test career. Ganguly’s performances, on the other hand, suffered with the burden of captaincy and do not make for favourable reading next to the aforementioned trio.
Besides, the trio shared some similarities hand-in-hand with their divergent styles. Tendulkar possessed controlled aggression, Dravid dour defence and Laxman wristy elegance. But all three were essentially patient and tenacious batsmen, following the fabled example of Sunil Gavaskar. They did not lack strokemaking ability — no, not even Dravid — but chose to carefully and meticulously build their innings rather than go for one shot too many and throw it away. In the process, Tendulkar and Dravid set the world record for the highest aggregate partnership in Test cricket, surpassing Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes.
While their cautious approach sometimes attracted criticism from observers who felt they failed to step up the pace when required, the solidity and reliability they brought to the Indian batting line up was largely welcomed. A classic exhibit of the combined might of the “Big Three” was a Test played against Australia in Sydney in 2004. The combined match tally of the trio was a whopping 608 runs and brought India close to what would have been an historic series win in Australia. The bowling came up short often times, but big runs were assured, or so it felt at the time, as long as the “Big Three” were in the line-up.
It is perhaps this feeling of assurance and calm that fans of the Indian cricket team will miss at least in the near future. Starting with Dravid after the Australian debacle of 2012, the “Big Three” have taken turns to say goodbye. Just like that, a seminal phase of Indian cricket is about to draw to a close. There may be new talent waiting in the wings to seize their opportunity to rise and shine. But may is the operative word here.
Fans could justifiably feel assured that either of Tendulkar, Dravid or Laxman would put their hand up and save the situation. That may well turn out to be the case with the new line-up, but we don’t yet know who those go-to men will be. Tendulkar will join us in the aisles (or, the commentary box perhaps?) to find out.
(Madan Mohan is a 27-year-old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was eight and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com/)