The Tasmanian, Australia’s most successful skipper, couldn’t fulfil his wish of leading his team to victory in a Test match in India. Ponting, who has lost five of seven Tests in charge in this country, inherited a side of world-beaters from Steve Waugh, and for the most part of his captaincy period, Australia did rule with an iron hand. The retirement of key soldiers – Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist and Justin Langer – in the space of two years, however, has taken off their cloak of invincibility.
India are the number one Test side now, and the credit should go to years of sweat and blood by the senior citizens in the side. The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and the now-retired Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly have played a great role in transforming India into a champion side, and it’s difficult to imagine who, if at all any, will replace these stalwarts once they walk into the sunset. We are already feeling the absence of Kumble, and it’s not long before we begin to miss the Tendulkars, the Dravids and the Lxamans, all on the wrong side of 30. What will happen to the Indian Test side once these great men decide to hang up their shoes?
It’s a cycle, one might say, but this one eerily suggests a phase the Australians are currently going through. “It will be interesting to see,” Ponting remarked ever so cheekily when asked if India would be able to dominate Test cricket like Australia and the West Indies did before. “What I know about the Indian team is that all their batters are very experienced, barring Suresh Raina.
“When Laxman comes, (Cheteshwar) Pujara or Raina has to go out. It’s all about how they maintain the standards they have kept over the last couple of years. They have to move on, that has been the biggest challenge for Australian cricket as well. Once those very experienced players moved on, you need the young crop to stand up and play the way the guys before them have played. It will be interesting to see how India cope with that in the next couple of years,” Ponting reasoned.
However, as much as the future may look uncertain for India, it isn’t all that bleak if one were to take into account the last four Tests India have played. Raina, stepping in as a replacement for an indisposed Yuvraj Singh in the second Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo, struck a century on debut before lending a helping hand to Laxman in India’s series-levelling win in the third Test. The left-hander only further strengthened his credentials against Australia, though he could do with some more discretion.
Murali Vijay, replacing an injured Gautam Gambhir, finally managed to build on cute starts to notch up a maiden century in Bangalore. It is not easy to play a game knowing you are filling in for someone, but Vijay proved he is someone India can invest in heavily with scores of 139 and 37. So did Pujara, the Saurashtra batsman who has three triple tons to his credit in domestic cricket.
He is a long-innings player and it was a mere coincidence that he came in place of an injured Laxman, someone with a penchant for big scores. The 22-year-old, promoted to number three in the second innings in Bangalore, showed remarkable confidence for a debutant to produce a sparkling 72 that shut the Aussies out of the game. The three youngsters have shown great promise and with Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Manish Pandey and of course Yuvraj in the wings, the batting appears to be in reasonably safe hands.
One shouldn’t expect too much from these youngsters yet, because it’s impossible to replace batsmen of the caliber of Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman.
We shouldn’t build temples for these tyros after a couple of bright innings, nor should these young guns be crucified if they fail to match the expectations. If anything, they should be judged in the long run. In a country where rewards and awards aren’t necessarily commensurate with deeds, one shouldn’t fool himself into believing that he is the next Tendulkar or Dravid.