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Rohit Sharma made his Test debut in Kolkata on Wednesday. Photo: Shailendra Bhojak/PTI
Rohit Sharma made his Test debut in Kolkata on Wednesday. Photo: Shailendra Bhojak/PTI

Who will succeed Sachin Tendulkar?

Sachin Tendulkar believes Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma will break some of his records. Current form suggests he may be right

Apart from scoring a mountain of runs and centuries, Sachin Tendulkar could also be credited with showing some prescience. At a party last year thrown by Mukesh and Nita Ambani to celebrate his “ton of tons", when Tendulkar was asked if anybody could break his records, he picked Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.

Since the two young batsmen were also in the audience, it appeared then that Tendulkar was perhaps paying lip service. Twenty months later, and specially by the form they’ve shown this year, Tendulkar’s assessment does not seem as far-fetched.

That said, Tendulkar now has a limited role in how they shape their future. He will, one would imagine, pass on useful tips in his last two Tests—if he has any bandwidth remaining after the over-the-top send-off he is receiving currently. But the onus though is strictly on Kohli and Sharma to actualize the potential which Tendulkar rates so highly.

On evidence yet, both are highly talented batsmen. Kohli has stolen a march over Sharma by cementing his place in the Indian team—both One Day Internationals (ODIs) and Tests. His strike-rate—for runs and centuries—in ODIs is mind-boggling already, and with a couple of Test hundreds under his belt, he has shown the happy ability to adapt to both formats.

Too much is made of his overly aggressive demeanour. True, in the past he has transgressed the limits of niceties that make cricket such a noble sport. But I believe he has now reined himself to pursue excellence rather than controversy, without compromising on the intensely competitive flavour of his cricket.

Sharma, who enjoys even greater admiration from peers and experts for his “natural" ball sense, seems to be finding his feet (and way) in the tough environment of international sport after some hiccups and a prolonged wait time on the reserves bench.

This year, he has been spectacular, and I use the adjective after due deliberation. Sensing perhaps that time was running out for him, and given the opportunity to open the innings in ODIs, Sharma has transformed from a stylish, but inconsistent stroke player, into a brilliant match winner.

Yet, he was still to play a Test match till he was selected for the first Test against the West Indies that started in Kolkata on Wednesday. The inability of Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina to counter short-pitched bowling—even in limited overs cricket—has compelled selectors to look elsewhere and Sharma’s excellent current form has deservedly won him approval.

But while Tendulkar picked Sharma and Kohli, the Indian batting is by no means dependent on only these two in the future. Happily, there is a cluster of batsmen in the same age group who have shown similar terrific potential.

In fact, Cheteshwar Pujara has the most impressive record (as yet) in Tests among the newcomers while opener Shikhar Dhawan has been like a bazooka since his comeback into the side, starting with his sensational debut century against Australia last season. Murali Vijay might seem like a weak link in this group, but his Test form last season was exceptional.

That the likes of Yuvraj and Raina have lost their places and seasoned, proven performers like Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have been kept at bay in their comeback bid shows that selectors are unwilling to be swayed by past reputation; certainly where Test cricket is concerned.

This is a good sign but also increases the pressure on Sharma, Kohli, Pujara, Dhawan and Vijay to sustain their form. There is a fair number of high quality young batsmen with loads of runs in domestic cricket (Ajinkya Rahane being one)—not to mention senior pros like Sehwag and Gambhir who are by no means over the hill—waiting for any slip-up from those in the squad currently.

With Tendulkar’s retirement after his 200th Test in Mumbai, the makeover of the Indian team will be complete. On the basis of the performances, yet of the new brigade, India’s batting looks to have heft, style and great entertainment value too.

Whether it can adequately replace Tendulkar, Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Sehwag—who gave what is widely known as the golden era in Indian batting—is the crucial question.

Between them, the preceding group notched up more than 50,000 Test runs; the current one totals less than 5,000 yet. The start has been impressive. But sustainability is the key. Where they rate 10 years later, individually and collectively, will tell the story.

Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.

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