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By Suresh Menon
Often a baton-exchange in cricket takes
place in full public view, although sometimes its significance becomes
clear only much later. When Vijay Merchant ended his career with 154
against England in Delhi, the batsman at No. 3 was run out for 21. This
was Polly Umrigar, who was to carry the batting on his shoulders in the
Forty years ago, as Dilip Sardesai was moving
towards the then record score of 642 in a series in the West Indies, he
pointed to a younger man saying the latter was the future of Indian
cricket. That 21-year-old, Sunil Gavaskar, went on to make 774 in the
At Cardiff, as Rahul Dravid and Virat Kohli
batted together, putting on 170 in a one-day international, it was
difficult to look beyond the obvious pattern. Another baton-exchange,
this time in a one-day international, but it doesn’t take too much
imagination to extend that to Test cricket.
It is not a
peculiarly Indian thing – this imposition of order as a generation
prepares to bid goodbye. Australia, looking at a No. 3 to succeed Ricky
Ponting have a new candidate, the young Shaun Marsh, who made a century
on Test debut against Sri Lanka recently. England’s bench strength in
the series against India was so rich and varied that the senior players
can feel the breath of the youngsters on their necks.
the remainder of the cricket season in India will now be occupied with
the thought of Who after the Biggies? or its variants. While it is
generally accepted that Sachin Tendulkar, like Bhagwat Chandrasekhar
before him, cannot have an exact replacement, India’s current lowly
status in world cricket means that any hint that they might be able to
squeeze in an occasional square peg into a round hole, will be welcomed.
is a strange beast. You don’t lose if you can find your future in the
loss. As William Blake said in another context, without contraries there
is no progression.
A generation and more ago, when another
Fab Four – the spinners Chandrasekhar, Bishan Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna
and Srinivas Venkatraghavan – retired, those who moved into their shoes
had the extra pressure of not only taking wickets at the same rate but
being aesthetically as pleasing and articulate to boot.
Kohli, Cheteswar Pujara, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and others will face
a similar unforgiving attitude when the Tendulkars, Dravids and Laxmans
move on. Their success will depend on how well they cope with this
extra, and in some ways needless pressure.
It is particularly
difficult when the team is doing badly. As England discovered once again
in Cardiff, when a team is doing well, everything it touches turns into
gold. When John Bairstow arrived at the crease during the chase, the
match was still India’s, but the young man batted with the confidence
and freedom that he had absorbed through some osmosis from a successful
team. In 21 deliveries, he became a national hero.
brings to his game another aspect of team spirit – the ability to
prevent through osmosis the frustration and depression that comes from
defeat. His century was another reminder that he is ready for
consideration as a front-runner to take over from the batting greats.
Zaheer Khan saga might have, sadly come to an end. We will know soon
enough. It is difficult not to feel sympathy for a team which lost ten
players through injury on a miserable tour. Yet, should India soon climb
back to the top spot in either form of the game, the magic moment will
be traced to that magic partnership between Dravid and Kohli.