I put some thoughts on India’s major bowling backups that I have seen over the last decade mostly inspired by the ridicule that Indian bowling is facing ahead of the England tour. Now most of the English media is praising the Indian middle order so much so as it appears to be a collective effort to jinx them to failure! There is also talk about how the transition would be once the greats retire. So I thought about the batting bench strength.
I had always thought we had much more bowlers coming in every year, than we could probably handle and the result was none of them has, yet, emerged as a real promise. Their records just fade in comparison with say a Morne Morkel who is the next South African hope[though he is 26]. But if you think of batsmen, it’s just the opposite, but result being the same. Our middle order has been so strong, that not even Yuvraj Singh, who is among the real good ODI players, has managed to sneak in. [There has been ones like Amol Muzumundar, who by playing parallel to the like of Sachin, missed out on an opportunity. But as we are focusing on the future, lets focus on younger ones.] It’s only after the retirement of Sourav Ganguly that, even a place is available in the batting slots. But its still not grabbed as we could have hoped.
We always had one [or even 2] slots free at the opening even as late as in 2007. But with Gambhir settling in even that slot was full and Ganguly was still playing in 07’! So no one could have even a knock at the door for spots 1-6. Yuvraj Singh was the man waiting that time to replace one of the middle order stalwarts in case of an injury. But with Ganguly’s retirement, scenario has changed. Yuvraj has got some chances and he didn’t live up to the expectations. Many others have also tried their luck. Here’s who I think, may form the Indian batting order in the future.
1. Abhinav Mukund : He is in the squad now. Having made lots of runs in the domestic circuit,- its ridiculously easy to make runs there - he got the selectors call as suddenly both Sehwag and Gambhir were injured for the West Indies series. He didn’t look great, but showed ‘some resistance’. Is that what we expect form a top order player, is another question. But he is in the pecking order now and [with great luck] will also open at Lord’s on the occasion of the 2000th test. Will he cement the place remains to be seen.
2. Murali Vijay: He was given a chance after a big 200  in a first-class match, after Gambhir got suspended, after he invited Watson to a party somewhere, with his shoulder, against Australia. He scored a decent 74 in his first match. But again, is it what we expect from an opening batsman? A struggling 40? But still, he ‘looked good’ for the selectors and after some disastrous performances in all forms of the game, barring the IPL may be, he is still ‘looking good’. But he must realize at 27, he is losing time and need to come down to earth from the 127 he scored during the IPL. His team mate at Tamil Nadu, Mukund has passed him in the order, unless Mukund fails in England and what a dilemma it would be for India.
3.Ajinkya Rahane: He is next in the order, perhaps [atleast according to the audience]. He too has lots of runs at the domestic circuit. But the problem is his patience. He is seen in Mumbai as a brilliant stroke player who can make a swift 40-50. But so was Sehwag, wasn’t he?
4. Cheteshwar Pujara : He is by far the best that I can bank on as he has got technique and a still head. Most important of all, he has got an understanding parent, who knows about the game and its highs to back him up. So hopefully he will keep his foot on the ground and go forward. He looked fantastic while taking India to victory vs Australia. The pace of Steyn did trouble him in South Africa, but no one would have done much with that kind of bowling.
5. Virat Kohli: He is projected as the future captain of India, having led the junior team to World Cup victory. He is just 22 and has already won a World Cup and has played 50 ODIS. His behavior was and is attracting a lot of criticism. Even his reactions [also other players] after winning the under-19 World Cup came for much ridicule. But he feels he has shed the stardom effect and is a mature player now. Cricketing-wise he looks matured, but behavior wise he still has a long way to go. He also faced some problems with the short ball, surprisingly, against the West Indies. He has been dropped from the England tour which he feels has been good for him. Still a boy who tries to avoid his angry mom, he can be a part of the future middle order.
6. Rohit Sharma: Rohit Sharma has been praised and jettisoned by many from their good books. He has got style and hours to play a ball no matter the speed of the bowler. He, like many, fell for the superficial stardom and may be like his senior example; Yuvraj Singh is still struggling to get a place in the test team. But his talent is too good to go waste and if he corrects his head a bit, can be a batting great. But he has had lots of opportunities and unless he continues from what he did in the Caribbean, he may lose out.
7. Suresh Raina: He has seen ups and downs in his career and he is just 24. He has got talent and the English media, with all their hyperbole, described him as next Sachin Tendulkar after he took India to victory in an ODI. But his problems with the short ball never got him settled. His temperament cannot be an issue with the hostel structure in Uttar Pradesh cricket. He will be serious and may have improved, apparently, with his performances in the West Indies. He also, probably, will be part of the middle order in the future.His current coach, even thinks he is a captaincy material, though he lead a team to Zimbabwe not quite emphatically.
8.Yuvraj Singh: He has somewhat been an enigma for tests. An excellent ODI player with talent couldn’t overcome technical problems to play regular test cricket. Being on the fringes for long he was given the slot, which he should have snatched from one of the players, after Ganguly’s retirement. It seemed, after an under pressure 100, along with, ironically, Sourav Ganguly, that he may have come of age. But he still was not able to convert his talent into runs, even as he won a World Cup for India. He seems determined to cement a test spot, but as of now Raina seems to have got it. Being just in his late 20s he still has a chance to add to his tremendous ODI career.
9.Ambati Rayudu: This guy was hyped up as next batting great to emerge from the country of batting superstars. But after his ego struggles with the administration, somewhat rightly so as players like these captain his Hyderabad side, he found himself in the ICL. But from a stint with the Mumbai Indians in the IPL, one of the few things that I like about the IPL, he returned to the reckoning. I hope he rediscovers his talent and fine tune it, for he could be a real asset at the middle order.
10.Manish Pandey: He is young and hasn’t proven much apart from being the first Indian to score an IPL century. But his knock against Mumbai in the Ranji Final meant that he was to be noticed. But a bit of controversy, eve at such a young age meant he went back the queue. A player, who has got talent and with development in temperament can be included in the side. But his place is still some way away.
11.Manoj Tiwary: He has been unlucky of sorts. He got his chance after an impressive 06’ Ranji performance. He was to play in the first test in Mirpur, when a training injury hit him and he was out of the frame for 2 years. He did return and it was difficult it could get and was in Brisbane against Australia in an ODI. Brett Lee showed no mercy and let a scorching Yorker get Tiwary back in the hut. He waited again for 2 years and when he did play in the West Indies recently in the ODIS didn’t look the player that he was, probably because of the unfamiliar opening position. Still this guy has talent and is in the second line of challengers for a batting spot.
S Badrinath: I may be a bit harsh, but I think his career is almost over and he has not looked a good player on whatever international exposure he has had. That may be against Steyns express pace, but he looked completely out of sorts and different from the domestic run gatherer that he is. He may get a couple of years after one of the greats retires, but that will be it as he is already above 30.
Robin Uthappa: This man had/has talent. But he seems to be happy, just to hit sixes in the IPL. He seems to have no apparent interest in a test spot and is not looking for a long innings, not even aggressive or 200 ball 150 kind of a stay. He, in my view will never play test cricket [even if he does, it would be a very short stint].
Shikhar Dhawan: He has been named as captain of the 'Emerging players squad'. But I dont think he will ever feature in a test selection meeting. But he has every chance to play many ODIs. But if he does want to play tests, he can take a cue from his Delhi team mate Gambhir.
I have crawled my way to an 11! So is there a shortage on the batting side? Absolutely not. Batting unlike bowling is less susceptible to injuries and if 6-7 out of these get into a settled mode, then we can be secure for another 10 years, well, hopefully. There may be some other contenders like KB Arun Karthik from Tamil nadu and Sourabh Tiwary from Jharkhand. I have not mentioned IPL wonders like Paul Valthaty or Bharat Chipli [he is already 28].
There are others like Ravindra Jadeja[who must come down to earth and be serious] , Mayank Agarwal, Ashok Menaria etc who are coming through the under-19 ranks.
Finally, what would India’s top 6 look like after -say- a couple of years? [Though I am never sure of Tendulkar ;)] Back up top 6, on the right.
First choice TOP 6 Backup TOP 6
Gautham Gambhir Abhinav Mukund
Virender Sehwag Murali Vijay
Cheteshwar Pujara Ajhinkya Rahane
Rohit Sharma Ambati Rayudu
Virat Kohli Yuvraj Singh
Suresh Raina Manoj Tiwary
P.S: You can help by mentioning any one whom I might have missed.