India set to usher in a new phase

No Dravid, Laxman for first time in 16 years

Since they came together in November 1996, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have been two of India’s stronger batting pillars in Test cricket.

Dravid made his debut at the historic Lord’s in June 1996 while Laxman earned his India cap four months later against South Africa in Ahmedabad. The runs they have stacked up together is staggering, the number of matches they have won with or without each other is impressive. More importantly, though, the legacy they have left behind will be hard to match.

A cursory glance at their batting stats reflects the void they have left behind with their departure within the space of five months and the enormous task the youngsters have of stepping into their giant shoes. The two stylish right-handers amassed 22,069 runs between them in 298 Tests combined with 53 centuries in total.

In their first 16 partnerships together, they didn’t have a single century alliance but once Kolkata 2001 happened, they became an irresistible force. Of the 11 century stands between them, they have two triple-ton associations, the only Indian pair to do so. And only on one occasion, the 2008 Sydney Test during which India were at the receiving end of umpiring errors, did India lose when the two produced a partnership of 100 or more.

The duo’s contributions, however, transcend mere numbers. Along with Sachin Tendulkar, and on some occasions Sourav Ganguly, they changed how the rest of the cricketing world perceived India. During their time, India successfully shed their image of flat-track bullies, flattening bowlers of great repute in different venues and varying conditions.

While it’s unfortunate that they had to see the reputation they had built for India suffer a mighty blow in their last two away series, it shouldn’t take any gloss off their careers.

The epochal 376-run stand against Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001 ought to be the high point of their batting partnership, but this was just the beginning of several more such significant collaborations which heralded India’s ascendancy. Proud cricketers that the two were, they bowed out as gracefully as they batted, setting a perfect example for Gen Next to follow both on and off the field.

On Thursday, when Mahendra Singh Dhoni leads his team against New Zealand in the first Test, it will be the first time when neither batsman will be part of this Indian side in more than 16 years. While Virat Kohli has shown Test credentials with a sparkling century against Australia at Perth, the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, who is returning after an injury lay-off, and Suresh Raina, back in the fold for the longer version, have the golden opportunity to firm up their claims against a Kiwi attack in familiar conditions.

As it’s unwise to build a temple on the basis of mere promise, it’s equally harsh to run down these youngsters on the basis of a few failures.

If anything, they should be judged over a longer period for neither Dravid nor Laxman became legends overnight. It’s just the beginning of what’s going to be a testing, hectic season for India but the New Zealand series may well offer clues to what the future holds.

Comments (+)