The tail end of the noughties was an exciting time for cricket in India; the Indian Premier League was rapidly turning into the monster it would ultimately succeed in becoming, whilst the test team had ascended to the summit of the ICC test rankings in 2009.
Optimism abounded amongst their loyal fans and the future looked bright as the calendar ushered in the start of the next decade.
Within 18 months however, and a 4-0 dismantling by a buoyant England team later, the Indians had lost their number one status and another grey cloud was forming on the horizon. This took the form of the impending retirements of several key cogs in their elite batting lineup.
The golden generation of Gambhir, Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman and Yuvraj Singh, last seen together as a unit compiling 631 at Eden Gardens against the West Indies in 2011, had seriously limited opportunities for the next generation of Indian test batsmen.
Panic bells started to ring in January 2012 when Dravid and Laxman became the first notable retirees after an innings defeat at the Adelaide Oval. Of most concern at the time was the lack of meaningful contributions from the inexperienced batsmen that had been filtered into the team over the previous four years.
Suresh Raina, perhaps the most hyped of the group after a century on debut away in Sri Lanka, was struggling to adapt to a barrage of short pitched bowling from England in particular and had seen his batting average stagnate, falling below 30 for the first time after a dreadful run of low scores in the second half of 2011.
Murali Vijay was having a similarly torrid time in 2011 averaging just 12 in a test series away to the West Indies.
Virat Kohli meanwhile was struggling to convert a number of promising starts into the big scores which the Indian public demands of its middle order.
Commentators had begun speculating that the country’s young batsmen had been adversely affected by the nature of the IPL. Loose shots early in an innings were pounced upon and deemed to be solely due to too much T20 cricket.
Below are the batting statistics for India’s ‘next generation’ prior to the retirement of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman on January 24 2012...
Murali Vijay - 20 (innings) 609 (runs) 30.45 (average) 2 (50s) 1 (100s)
Virat Kohli - 15, 491, 32.73, 3, 1
Cheteshwar Pujara - 5, 107, 21.40, 1, 0
Suresh Raina - 26, 710, 29.58, 6, 1
Subramaniam Badrinath - 3, 63, 21.00, 1, 0
Abhinav Mukund - 10, 211, 21.10, 1, 0
These batting statistics didn’t make good reading for the Indian selectors who were now seeking to plug a gap the size of 22,069 runs and 53 combined centuries.
However, despite their collective failure to take test cricket by storm, there were promising signs emanating from two of the group. Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara had shown solid technique and were thought by many analysts to have the potential to be mainstays of the Indian middle order.
The Indian press and public need not have worried after all as the retirement of Dravid and Laxman in January 2012 has heralded a new dawn for the Indian batting unit.
Big development strides have been taken by a number of batsmen since this moment, allowing the team to absorb the subsequent loss of form from Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag plus the imminent retirement of the little master himself, Sachin Tendulkar.
Kohli and Pujara have taken their games onto the next level, leaving the ball well outside the off stump while picking off any loose balls. They have been joined at the top of the order by a resurgent Murali Vijay who scored back-to-back 150s against Australia in March and cemented an opening spot in the process.
In a further revival of the India’s fortunes, recent additions to the lineup have looked at home straight away in the test match arena, unlike those who had gone before. Shikar Dhawan made an incredible 187 from 174 balls on debut, splaying Australia’s attack to all areas of the boundary in Mohali, whilst Rohit Sharma nearly equalled this feat, compiling an impressive 177 on his debut last week in the first test match against the West Indies.
The statistics for these five players highlight a remarkable turnaround for the next generation of Indian batsmen since those major retirements at the Adelaide Oval...
Murali Vijay - 8 (innings) 456 (runs) 57.00 (average) 1 (50s) 2 (100s)
Virat Kohli - 17, 687, 49.07, 3, 3
Cheteshwar Pujara - 18, 1090, 77.86, 2, 4
Shikar Dhawan - 2, 210, 105.00, 0, 1
Rohit Sharma - 1, 177, 177.00, 0, 1
These players have a hunger to succeed at the top level which is supported by their unwillingness to settle for small hundreds, in most cases on reaching three figures producing, to borrow a term from the English, ‘daddy hundreds’. Seven of their 11 combined hundreds have been converted into scores in excess of 150 with only Kohli unable to reach that mark.
The only black spot to note against these statistics is that all 45 of these innings since January 2012 have been played out within the borders of their home country, a notorious playground for international batsmen in recent years.
Forthcoming tours to South Africa and New Zealand respectively will provide a valuable yardstick to assess their development against top quality bowling attacks in unfamiliar conditions where the pendulum will swing back towards the bowler.
Their insatiable appetite for runs will not be diminished however, with Cheteshwar Pujara noting his desire to score big runs overseas and saying that cricketers should be judged on how they perform away from home. This mature approach will only help instil the correct attitude within the group in order to ward off complacency going into these two big series.
Whilst the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar will dominate the headlines from the Wankhede Stadium over the next few weeks, Indian fans should be safe in the knowledge that the task of replacing the little master and his esteemed teammates has been taken up with relish by a new cast of potential batting superstars.
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