These are exciting times for Indian cricket; exciting not because Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have retired but because in very literal terms, this is the start of a new era for Indian cricket.
As good as Dravid and Laxman were – their presence in the middle-order meant that for almost 15-odd years, youngsters found it almost impossible to break into the Indian batting line-up. No matter how many runs they scored in domestic cricket, no matter how many centuries one scored – double or otherwise – a spot in the Test team remained elusive.
The reward for an outstanding performance in the Ranji trophy would be a spot in the one-day team. It wasn’t like for like but they would have to make do with that. The Test team was water-tight, the selectors weren’t exactly adventurous and most of the changes happened in the bowling department.
But now, the wheels of change are turning once more. The youngsters will know that a good performance will be rewarded in kind – score a century, cement your place in the Test team for a couple of series at least. Fail and you could be dropped like a hot potato. The stakes are high, there are enough youngsters waiting in line and the selectors have shown themselves to be capable of making random, inexplicable selections.
Of all the players in with a chance, Virat Kohli is probably the only one who will be given a long run, regardless of how many runs he scores in the next series or two. He has proved his potential and he deserves it. But there are still questions about his position in the batting order.
Number three is what most would reckon but then another youngster Cheteshwar Pujara might be ‘more’ capable of giving the slot a Dravid-like solidity. Is that the way to go or do you go with a more free-scoring Kohli?
Another change that might be in the offing is moving Virender Sehwag down the order. Ajinkya Rahane has opened for Mumbai in the past and Sehwag has been wanting to bat down the order for a while now. The move will serve two purposes – it will allow India to get another opening option – there is already Abhinav Mukund (Tamil Nadu) who did a fairly decent job in England, but we haven’t heard from him after that. And it will allow Dhoni and India to add some more strength to the middle-order as well.
In India, the ball won’t swing a lot and if Rahane could get through the first few overs, it should be easy going. Some may argue against breaking the Sehwag-Gautam Gambhir partnership. But then remember this: One (Sehwag) hasn’t scored a Test century outside the sub-continent in four years and is already 33-years-old and the other (Gambhir) hasn't scored a Test century in 36 innings over 2 years.
It might be time to given them a wake-up call as well. Since change is in the air – we might as well make full use of it.
The other decision that Dhoni has to make is bound to attract a lot more debate – whether to pick Suresh Raina or Rahane. Now, Raina has already played 15 Tests but he hasn’t exactly set the scene on fire. An average of 29.58 isn’t great, neither is his first class average of 43.00, but he does add some variety with his spin bowling and is a superb fielder as well. He was seen training to take over in the slips as well.
Rahane, on the other hand, is someone who has worked him way into the team on the back of some excellent seasons in domestic cricket. An average of 63.94 after 53 matches makes him a man to watch out for. But will he get the chance he deserves?
Either way – the New Zealand series and the tours after that promise to see youngsters straining every sinew to succeed; there will be no repeat of England or Australia – where even after losing all 8 matches, not a single player was dropped. The youngsters are more vulnerable but it will be exciting to see which one of them manages to build his legend fastest.
Our playing XI for the first Test: Ajinkya Rahane, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav.
Feel free to tell us what your playing XI is...