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Indian Test cricket: past, present & future

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Cheteshwar_Pujara_India_cricketIndian Cricket almost always offers an amazing feast to spectators. Even hardened critics from around the world seldom shy away from volunteering their insights on perhaps the most widely discussed, if not the most followed, cricket team in the world.

The responsibility for the opinions and emotions felt towards the national cricket team is probably due to the sheer number of cricketing stalwarts who have emerged from India who are often regarded as demi-gods in the world of cricket. Joining the chorus of acclaim are in fact fans from around the world.

Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman's contemporaries have hailed them as all time legends, so phenomenal have been their accomplishments. India has been proud and ecstatically jubilant at having produced the finest batsman of this generation. So revered as God is he that Matt Hayden said he saw the almighty coming to bat at no. 4 for India. The Prince of Trinidad, Lara hailed Dravid, saying that if he were to put a batsman on to save his life, then it would be India's impregnable wall. Brett Lee and McGrath admitted that Laxman's wicket would be the real signal of an Indian batting collapse.

Test cricket isn't collapsing at an alarming rate

Ajinkya_Rahane_India_cricketIt is important to note that while the common feeling expressed by an average cricket fan is one that mostly warms up for limited over cricket, test cricket which may be on the verge of collapsing in these modern times still boasts of large number of fans.

Classicists and lovers of test cricket are out there in vast numbers. There is a charming fancy commanded by the white attire. The sustained rigor evokes a magic that truly summarizes the spirit of cricket. That test cricket is an ultimate test for a batsman's grit and a bowler's longevity and versatility is no surprise for the hundreds and thousands who turn up to witness the action, wherever it unfurls.

From the charming, glistening green fields of cricket's Mecca, Lord’s, or the abundantly loved MCG in Australia, test cricket is still at some distance from being completely white-washed by the absence of fans. The faithful still turn up at Sabina Park in Jamaica or at our very own Garden of glory, Eden Gardens in Kolkata.

The most popular case batting for the notion that Test cricket is again finding the attention it so deserves is that of the Ashes. The immediate after-effect of Australia being routed was their rise to conquer the same team in the limited over series. The retirement of stars like Shane Watson (from tests), Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke (from international cricket) has already triggered a search to find able replacements.

In the other parts of the Test Cricket world, a depleted West Indies is keenly nurturing the likes of Kraigg Brathwaite, Leon Johnson, Jermaine Blackwood and Jason Holder to step up their game at the test level.

Is Kohli's India marching toward Test greatness?

Despite the changes in the Indian test side, something is special about this team. Even with the retirement of stalwarts, our game did not seem to suffer from the threat of a total collapse, as was issued in the form of overenthusiastic warnings.

Instead, test cricket in India has produced youngsters who are fast being held as the ones who may match the success of their amazing predecessors. The end of Dhoni’s era in tests has seen the baton of test ascendancy and leadership passed over to Virat Kohli, who seldom shies away from challenges.

Yes, he failed to impress with the bat in England, where Jimmy & co. took the mickey out of him with their reverse swingers, but Virat bounced back to perform well on the Sri Lankan tour. He would have wanted to repeat his splendid outing at Australia, where it seemed only he and Steven Smith were scoring runs.

Virat Kohli's India still boasts test cricket lovers who crave the long battles fought between the willow and the red cherry. At his disposal, apart from an ever struggling Rohit Sharma and the successful duo of Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, he has two shining examples of excellent cricketers who seem to possess just the appetite that can take India to glorious heights in Test cricket.

Pujara and Rahane: Protectors of our test hopes

Two of the most technically proficient batsmen, both aged 27 and both quite similar in their approach to building an innings, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane indicate that the Indian test squad has what it takes to raise its cricket to the next level.

Pujara and Rahane are separated by a couple of batting positions in the test squad, and by a few hundred kilometers in their hometowns.

Pujara - the Rajkot-born batsman who got off to an impressive start in the test arena, cracking 2 double hundreds in 2013 at home versus England, and dominating headlines in the Jacques Kallis retirement series in South Africa in December 2013 - was shown the exit after his miserable outing on a largely forgettable English tour in 2014. Now back in the reckoning following his sensational test hundred at Colombo in the recently concluded series, he will be hungry to make amends for past mistakes.

On the other hand, Rahane seems to be in the middle of some form, if not a purple patch. One would do well to remember that he collected 276 runs from his last 4 tests, with a high score of 126 against Sri Lanka at Colombo.

Prior to that, Rahane was in the middle of the action at the ICC World Cup. Although he collected only 164 runs from 7 games, that included the ever important knock of 79 against South Africa. His blitzkrieg against the mightiest side in limited overs cricket went on to confirm his status as an all round batsman who ably combines his knack of concentrating hard and accumulating runs quickly when it matters most.

What makes Pujara and Rahane tick

Both Pujara and Rahane are more eager than ever to deliver big for their national side.

Pujara had to tick all the boxes during his painful ouster from the test squad, a place that he seemed to have made his own, when he was dropped and Rohit brought in. Since August 2014, he has collected 219 runs on his outing for Derbyshire where he struck a brilliant 100. He understood that a test recall would require even more runs. So he collected 264 runs at Yorkshire, where he averaged 52 with a high score of 133*.

His glorious form guided him to score an important 145* off 289 in the final test at Lanka, which went in India's favor.

Rahane, who is similar to Pujara in his ability to dig in deep when the chips are down and hold on to an end whilst wickets tumble at the other, reminds one of the great Dravid.

Rahane and Pujara seem to know the importance of representing India in tests. Their simple and hardened approach on playing every delivery to its merit, with a wide array of strokes and a watertight technique, has seen them rescue their side many a time. But how well these capable batsmen can serve India is a decision that will be taken by analyzing what is offered by both Rohit, who is still adamant in his place despite his poor form, and the rising competition in the squad. Here, playing tests for India is still considered a golden opportunity.

 


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