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By Suresh Menon
After the Bangalore Test it is tempting to say, “I have seen the future and it works.” Murali Vijay and Cheteswar Pujara played big roles in the win. The former is 26 and the latter 22, but both came into Test cricket the old fashioned way, with tons of runs in domestic and other first class matches. There was a phase during the match when the two were batting together after Pujara was sent in at one-drop. This was some serious on-the-job training for the person likely to take over from Rahul Dravid sometime in the future.
Meanwhile, it is possible that neither will play India’s next Test. Both Gautam Gambhir and V V S Laxman are set to return, leaving the Indian selectors with a headache that can only be described as sweet and welcome. They have not often been in this position. Nor have they had to be in the years when the middle order was buttoned up by one of finest set of batsmen in the history of the game, and later the opening slots fell into place with the arrival of Gambhir.
Both Murali and Pujara began as batsmen with a strong defence. That is old fashioned too. In no other sport can you use that phrase as a compliment. If you called Raphael Nadal old fashioned, he might sue you for it would invoke pictures of wooden racquets and trousers. But in cricket, especially after the arrival of Twenty20, the old fashioned Test player is a rare gem. You only have to think Laxman and Dravid to get the picture, and which youngster would not love the comparison?
You could throw cold water on such enthusiasm by pointing out that this was probably the poorest Australian side sent out to India in recent years. The bowling was weak, the batting was over-reliant on Ricky Ponting and the fielding – and this was the most surprising of all – was ragged. Overthrows were gifted away, and it is possible that if Hauritz had walked up to the wicketkeeper at a crucial stage, Murali might have been run out; had he lobbed the ball, he would certainly have been. Instead he chose to throw down the wicket and gave away some 250 runs. One of the most expensive overthrows in the game.
Suddenly, Sachin Tendulkar seems to have made everything ridiculously easy. Fifty Test match hundreds are just round the corner, as are 100 international centuries, figures that were thought impossible till the other day. Now it might even happen before the end of this year! His decision to sit out the one-dayers means he will get precious little match practice before the World Cup, but in his Second Coming he has been batting with such command and enjoyment that it might not matter. Not in the season when he scored the format’s first double century!
The bowling might be a problem, though. Sreeshanth did just enough in the second innings in Bangalore to suggest he had not completely lost it, merely misplaced it temporarily. Zaheer Khan continues to be the spearhead since Harbhajan Singh is inconsistent, although the off spinner looked very good when he flighted the ball to the Australians, who, strangely enough misread the length too often for it to be a coincidence.
This is an excellent time for a tour of South Africa (coming up in December), where despite our obvious batting strengths in the recent past we haven’t won a Test series. It will separate the men from the boys, and tell us where the recent successes (including Suresh Raina who began with a century on debut in Sri Lanka) stand in comparison to the stalwarts who will still be in the team.