Ever since, Saurav walked into the sunset, bidding adieu to a resurgent Indian team, the talks of retirement of the other big names like Sachin, Rahul, and Laxman were thickening like the winter fog that covers the Northern part of this country. That fog dims the vision and sends shivers down the spines of our northern brethren. The possibility of the retirement of the Big Three though seems to have an effect that envelopes pan India in terms of the fan base that gets affected by the very thought it.
For a decade or more, since Rahul and Saurav, walked in at Lord’s together, with Sachin being the lead anchor, the Indian batting has often sported a look that’s a mix of aggression, dour defence when needed, and effectiveness under most circumstances. When Laxman joined this trio, it got a silver edge in terms of sheer poetry in motion. If these four were a picture of absolute strength in the middle, the very momentum for India’s surge was provided by a very competent Sehwag. As the runs kept coming in and laurels followed, the time was ticking in the background.
After a late fight back in his career, Saurav had had enough and was the first to call it a day. With Rahul, Laxman, and Sachin, all pretty much in the same bracket, we expected the great Indian cycle stand to kick in. But that wasn’t to be. All these men are made of sterner stuff. If Rahul is defiant in his defence, Laxman is still at his sublime best and can still give the opposition a hard time, as seen recently during the Australian Test series. What to say of Sachin? The master just looked up the sky for the umpteenth number of time to score his 50th.
But as they say, time and tide, waits for none. By the very looks of it, the big three will retire in a space, not farther apart. Technically speaking, Rahul and Laxman are out of the scheme of the shorter versions already and Tendulkar only plays it selectively. Purists and Pundits alike agree that the void created by these gentlemen can be filled up relatively easier in the shorter formats than the tests, the format which separates the men from the boys! The fact that the Rainas and Kohlis of this world have found a comfortable beginning in the ODIs does substantiate that assumption a bit.
In the test matches however the story is different. This format demands as much of skills, as it demands the appetite for application, and the experience needed to see the tough moments through. This is exactly where the trio was so good at! They placed a premium on their wicket, almost always raised their game to a different level when they ran against the top teams and were at exceptional level of fitness even in the twilight years of their career.
The skills can be honed, what of the experience? That can only come with playing the hard way in the middle on tracks that are greener than ‘hara mirch’ and crumble faster than you can spell ‘cookie’. Luckily enough, some of the young blokes are getting a decent run with these guys and can learn rapidly by talking to them about situations, oppositions, and the mental aspects so needed to excel and sustain at the top of the game.
Potential wise, there is no dearth of talent. Under a captain like Dhoni, many young Indian batsmen can aspire to fill in the void left by the Big Three. The names that come to my mind are those of Cheteshwar Pujara, Murali Vijay, and Virat Kohli. There are many others waiting in the wings like Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, and Suresh Raina who with some maturity can aspire to be mentioned in the same breath, but that will come with time.
Cheteshwar has the technique and right mix of aggression to be thought of as next Dravid. Whether he will become the next Wall, will be subject to how much premium he places on his wicket and can be banked upon as a safe house on the crucial number three spot. The range of strokes that Virat Kohli possesses is a good indicator of his skill. His recent showings in ODIs are a source of much expectation from him in the longer format of the game. Murali, by the looks of it, has the same elegance in the way he wields his willow and has the natural instinct to attack, much like Laxman. Gambhir has already proved that it can be done, with his exploits as an opener and has made us get over our obsession with Saurav as an opener.
Let us remember that the art of batsmanship, like the fine wines, matures over a period of time. Rahul’s defence, Sachin’s complete authority, and Laxman’s grit under pressure were grafted over a period of time. It is their sheer dedication that ensured that they perfected their art to a level which can only be termed as ‘aspirational’ to the batsmen of modern era. To live up to that benchmark, the new lot will have to withstand the initial scrutiny, steer clear of momentary distractions, and single mindedly focus on the cause of the team. If they do that, I am willing to look beyond the near future into a promising new age of Indian batsmen dominating the world stage. Just like the Big Three did. Amen!