Kiwi Series Marks Watershed For Indian Cricket
By Richard Browne
The current test match in India, where new Zealand are the visitors is a watershed one for the Indians and for fans of classical batsmanship, with Laxman and Dravid now retired. Tendulkar clings on, but there is the sense that he has had his second wind and that the reflexes are slowing and the injuries getting harder and harder to handle.
Kohli as he showed in Sri Lanka has stepped up to the mark and looks glued in to the number five spot and eventually four when Sachin does bow to the inevitable. Raina the man seen as the next great has flattered to deceive in the longer form of the game and the troubles that he had against the short ball in England last year, remain. He seems unsure whether to stick or bust against the bumpers and keeps on getting in a tangle. Many batsmen have overcome this problem, Steve Waugh springs to mind. He never looked comfortable against the short stuff, but found a method that worked. Raina so graceful through the covers and powerful down the ground has time, but not too much to sort out these problems.
First drop even on the slow pitches of the sub continent is not the place for a man unsure of his technique. Che Pujara has no such issues and his elevation to the test team is long overdue. He first sprung to notice in 2010 when pushed up to number three in the second innings he produced a match winning and tightly composed 72 to win the game for India, in the fag end of the great Australia and India rivalry that was the enduring battle of the first decade of the new millennium, but with most of the greats gone has now reverted to home advantage home win status.
He entered if to the manor born and clearly had a cricketing brain on him. A short right hander equally strong on both sides of the wicket and with a preference to stay on the back foot, he is short on thrills, but tight on technique and has a hunger for huge runs. He made his first triple century aged 13 and has made them at all levels up to Test cricket.
Stepping into Dravid’s shoes is a huge undertaking: Dravid was a colossus who provided the foundations for the more dynamic around him to showcase their attacking intent and class. It looks like Pujara will have to do more and provide the ballast and the fireworks as the Indian batting lineup changes.
Since 2010 he has been struggling with injuries, but a successful A tour of the West Indies amongst a string of Indian flops has put him back on the map. He doesn’t appear to have a signature stroke although his cover drive is very pleasing on the eye. He nurdles and moves the field around and like Dravid seems to have a telepathic knowledge of where his off stump is.
He paced his 159 in this Test beautifully playing second string to Shewag and Kohli, but taking the inative as Tendulkar scathed around for an hour and a half for a labored 19. With the inflated egos and bank balances of the young Indian brigade the batting humility of Pujara, could well be priceless as the Indians begin their transition phase in earnest.
The next year is the time when coach Duncan Fletcher should be judged. Coming in after the world cup win and with an ageing side, with hindsight there is little he could have done to stall the sharp Indian decline. Now though with a wealth of young batting talent to work with, Fletcher could and should come into his own. He forged his reputation on his skills as batting coach rather than as a man manager and the true emergence of Kohli is already a feather in his omnipresent baseball cap. His tough southern African attitude is just what this bunch of young Indians need and like his early years with England in partnership with Hussein, he will be looking to forge a team in his own image: uncompromising but with a flexibility of thought and deed. He now just needs to find some bowlers.