Where is the next generation of Indian batsmen?

For a moment roll your eyes over the names of the Indian squad that toured Bangladesh.  It was as per predicted and boasted no surprises. Then think about the backup batting options and only Ambati Rayudu’s name will appear in front of you.

The fact that Rayudu is the successor for any batsmen in the current line-up is contentious enough, but what follows after him in terms of depth begs the question: Where is the next generation of Indian batsmen?

Over a decade ago when the ‘golden generation’ (Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag) formed the nucleus of the Indian batting, rarely did the selectors face a dilemma of picking two substitute batsmen for home or away series. Indian domestic cricket was churning out young batsmen that could be thrown into the deep end.

Luckily for India, the longevity of the “golden generation” meant the migration phase to the next group would start from around 2011. By then a crop of four youngsters had completed their apprenticeships and were ready for international cricket or some had a taste of it already from the ages of 18 or 19.

Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara broke into the Indian team across formats, only one or two years apart from each other. Come 2011, all of them had been part of the Indian Test squad or played in a Test match.  Each one of them deserved it after having proved themselves in domestic cricket right from the tender age of 17 or 18 onwards.

In 2011, Kohli had played five years of domestic cricket, 22 Ranji Trophy games, scored 1517 at an average of 56.  Before his Test debut, Pujara had played five years of Ranji Trophy, amassed 3043 runs at average of 68. Rohit should have debut at 22, if it wasn’t for an accident on the morning of the Test. At that time, his five years in Ranji Trophy had seen him accumulate 1996 runs at average of 60. Finally, the late riser in the pack, Rahane, scored 2994 runs at 69 before he was picked on the bench.  At the age of 22, each of them had an average over 55 showcasing their class.

Back to the current state and India barely have one batsmen ready to fill a vacant spot.  With the next World Cup four years away, it seems pointless to persist with Rayudu (29 years old) and given the selection for the Bangladesh series seems to suggest the selectors are not yet ready to even let youngsters warm the benches. But in reality, are there any prospering youngsters? On the basics of the Indian Premier League (IPL), there seems to be abundance of them, but on the evidence of the Ranji Trophy only one stands out.

Perhaps it is a just a transition phase. So, currently the cupboard seems empty. Batting prodigies such as Sanju Samson, Unmukt Chand, Mandeep Singh and of late Karun Nair do exist, but their records are way short of Kohli, Pujara, Rohit and Rahane achievements at their respective ages.

To put it in perspective, Sanju Samson has played Ranji Trophy for last four season. He has played 21 games scored 1386 runs at an average of 37. Unmukt Chand, now 22, has played five seasons of Ranji Trophy, only to average 39 despite in 34 matches.  Mandeep Singh, 23, has played five domestic seasons and 48 matches to average 45.

One may argue that one-day cricket is a completely different art, but if that is the case then why are the likes of Kedar Jadav and Robin Uttappa the next cabs of the list. Both Uttappa and Jadhav’s names are on the selection table because of the sheer amount of runs they have scored during the four-day format.

Rohit and Kohli might have been exposed to one-day cricket earlier, but when they went back to Ranji Trophy at the age of 21 and 22 respectively, there batting averages still hovered over 55 and 60.

The only batsmen to rise to the top on similar path to Rahane or a Pujara is KL Rahul. Having made his Ranji Tropy debut in 2010-11 season, Rahul has improved with every year that has passed. In his last three season he has averaged over 50 each year. At the dawn of his Test career, he was 22, having scored 2376 runs at 58.26.  No other competitor stood in sight.

One other aspect worth noting is in the last three years of Ranji Trophy, the top five leading runs scorers feature only one batsmen under the age of 22.  KL Rahul features in 2013-14 and 2014-15 season.

Coincidence or not, 2008 was the inauguration of the IPL, so the pathway to the top for many upcoming batting prodigies lay in an alternate route. The new format has probably hindered the development of youngster. Perhaps it is a case of maturing at a later age and hence there are no next generation 22-year-olds warming the bench for India.

Only time will provide us the answer. Or, maybe, the newly-appointed next generation coach Rahul Dravid. But when the options for fast bowling outweigh the batting options you know Indian cricket has changed dramatically.

 

(Gaurav Joshi is an Indian-born Australian who played with Michael Clarke in his junior days. He coaches and reports for a Sydney radio station. Over the years he has freelanced for Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and is a regular on ABC cricket show Cow Corner. He is the author of the book “Teen Thunder Down Under” – The inside story of India’s 2012 U19 World Cup Triumph)