Youngsters not yet ready to replace the Big Three

Virat Kohli (R) have let a lot of fans disenchanted, while Rohit Sharma will have his chance next week to prove the disbelievers wrong AFP

By Ashish Shukla

Perth: Jan 8, 2012

As the great batting trio of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman slip into the winter of their outstanding Test careers, the batting heirs to their spots are still showing a vacant sign.

First Suresh Raina and now Virat Kohli have let a lot of fans disenchanted. Rohit Sharma will have his chance next week to prove the disbelievers wrong.

A careful grooming of these youngsters was seen as a step in the right direction. They all were allowed a fair run of exposure in one-dayers before gaining a Test breakthrough — yet it all has come to a nought.

Raina had played a record 98 one-dayers before he gained his Test spurs and his record after 15 Tests reads 710 runs at 29.58 average.

Kohli got his breakthrough after 59 ODIs. His Test record of six matches and 234 runs at 21.27 isn’t a pretty reading either. Sharma, if he gets his moment next week, would’ve already played 72 one-day internationals.

Most of their failing has been due to their poor ability on the backfoot against bouncing and seaming deliveries. On dull sub-continental pitches, it’s easy for them to plonk their front foot and hit through the line.

On foreign pitches, it bounces more than the knee height and they don’t have the technical skills to play horizontal shots. The result — they are no better than sitting ducks.

Most experts believe the frenetic hitting in Twenty20 and one-day internationals have muddled their skills for the real examination of Test cricket.

Indian batting legend Sunil Gavaskar feels it has increased the bat-speed of young batsmen and they don’t follow the method of letting the ball come to the bat and play with soft hands.

The conditions back home actually work against the development of these batsmen. The pitches in the Ranji Trophy are featherbed tracks, 80 per cent of international cricket is played at home and there are riches galore from ODIs and IPL.

The coaches don’t have the gumption to go against the grain and ask their wards to knuckle down and polish their techniques. Riches and stardom are disincentives for the growth as a batsman.

Former Indian batting technician Sanjay Manjrekar recalls they used to get a slap on the wrist when an extravagant stroke was attempted at nets.

“It’s alright here but it wouldn’t work on bouncy pitches,” used to be the snub of the coaches.

A few former Indian batting stalwarts indeed recall how they were made to run rounds of the ground, with bat held behind their head, as punishment for playing lofted strokes.

Present Australian captain Michael Clarke, the triple centurion of the SCG Test, can work as a good example. He says that he turned his back to IPL and Twenty20 Big Bash because he wanted to be the best player that he possibly could be.

“To me, I made the right decision to leave Twenty20 and concentrate on ODI and Tests. I thought I had to improve my game and become player I possibly could be. The 4-5 days of work before I play a Test is paying off. In the last 12 months, my game is in better place,” said Clarke after the Sydney Test.

“I have worked very hard in last 12 months on my game. In the nets, bowlers have bowled to me with brand new balls, I have looked to improve my technique, my defence, played spin on unprepared pitches before we travel to the sub-continent.

It’s because I want to be the best player I could be,” said Clarke.

True, it isn’t easy to rewire batting after a certain age. A Rahul Dravid benefitted by way of playing on matting tracks. A Sunil Gavaskar, early in his career, would hone his skills on rain-affected pitches of Kanga league in Mumbai.

There was only one cricket they aspired for and it was Test cricket. Now ODIs and T20 have offered more opportunities but also greater distractions.

It’s no wonder that India’s proudest moments have come when they have won at Perth, Headingley, Durban and Johannesburg. It’s also no coincidence that this occurred because India had technically skillful batsmen in their prime.

The arrival of Dravid and Sourav Ganguly in the summer of 1996, managed to keep Indian cricket in good shape for the next 15 years. One fears if it is dark ages for Indian cricket once again.(PTI)