India in England 2011 July 20, 2011

Trinity offer a Test match special

India's batting triumvirate of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman is set to make a final stand at the home of Test cricket as the clock winds down on the golden age of Indian batting

On the flight from Mumbai to London, I sat alongside Kiran More, the former India wicketkeeper who was not so long ago the chairman of the national selection committee. He was flying in to watch the Lord's Test, but was paying for the trip himself. This is something he planned to do a long time ago. "I am here to watch Sachin, Rahul and Laxman," he said. "A pity Sehwag isn't there."

More knows what the rest of us do. The clock is winding down on the golden age of Indian batting. You could even say the golden age of Test batting. Only Ricky Ponting remains from the great Australian line-up; Brian Lara went long ago; Jacques Kallis is fit and hungry still, but he is on the wrong side of 30. Perhaps AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla will join their ranks before they finish, and Kevin Pietersen, if he finds his second wind, may end up as one of the all-time greats, but India's batting wealth in the last 10 years has been freakish.

And while everything is cyclical, as Twenty20 skills grow more and more vital to the professional cricketer, it is likely that the best of Test match batting as we have known it is already behind us. This summer presents an opportunity - one of the last few - to savour what remains of it.

It had seemed improbable in 2007, when India toured England last, that Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid would be back again. Even VVS Laxman was a marginal case. But they have all endured. Tendulkar has grown even more resplendent; Laxman has become India's great saviour; Dravid's powers have waned but he was still able to produce a match-winning innings on a difficult pitch in Kingston last month. Still, it can be said with a degree of certainty - though with Tendulkar nothing can be ruled out - that this it for them as far as England goes: one last summer in what remains the finest and strongest bastion of Test cricket.

They will play before full houses, before crowds that cherish and understand Test cricket, in conditions that will challenge them and against bowlers who will test their skills. It is a series in which they will be defending their status as the No. 1 Test team. Add in the facts that it is the 2000th Test, and the 100th Test between India and England, and there is everything: occasion, context, the stage, the grand story, the prospect of a proper contest between bat and ball, and the opportunity for one of the game's most artful and versatile batting line-ups to make a final stand at the home of Test cricket. More knows what he is paying for.

It is staggering to think that More was in the dressing room when Tendulkar, just a few months past 17, scored his first Test hundred in 1990, a match-saving masterpiece in the final innings at Old Trafford. He has made three hundreds since on subsequent tours but memories of that innings linger. Of the six hundreds scored in that match, Tendulkar's was the most poignant, and not merely because he was so young. After his senior colleagues departed on a wearing pitch he batted with an assuredness that reminded many of Sunil Gavaskar, with whom Tendulkar shares his physical stature, but it was his back-foot driving that marked him out as special. Two decades later, he will start this tour in quest of his 100th international hundred, a statistical Everest.

For Dravid, the 148 at Headingley remains his defining innings. There have been equally significant match-winning innings - 180 in Kolkata against Australia in 2001, 233 in Adelaide in 2003, 270 against Pakistan in Rawalpindi - but none was made in tougher conditions, and none required more technical certitude and patience. It was also his second-most prolific series, bringing him three hundreds and more than 600 runs. The next England tour brought mixed results for Dravid: he won the series as captain, but his returns were abysmal with the bat.

Retirement couldn't have been far from his mind then, but he could have hardly resisted a final tilt at Test cricket in the country where he made his debut and where Test cricket remains the supreme game. Batting geniuses are freaks of nature and there is no telling when and where the next one will come from, but the way the game has gone in the last few years, it is hugely unlikely that India will produce another Dravid. Watching him plod away might seem excruciating to some but perhaps they will realise what they are missing after he is gone.

English fans might occasionally wonder what the fuss over VVS Laxman is all about, for they have never watched him at his best. A highest score of 74 in a losing cause at Lord's in 2002 was easily eclipsed by, of all people, Ajit Agarkar, who blazed a hundred - the only one by an India batsman at that ground in the past 15 years. It can be argued that the swinging and seaming conditions in England are anathema to Laxman's wristy ways, but more likely it is a mere aberration, for Mohammad Azharuddin scored some splendid hundreds here with a similar style. Laxman comes into this series with the reputation of India's iron man and with a determination to set the record straight.

There is another 100th hundred to be scored in the series, and it doesn't have to come off Tendulkar's bat. Between them, Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman carry a tally of 99 Test hundreds to the Lord's Test. Dravid and Laxman don't play one-day cricket anymore and Tendulkar turns out only occasionally in coloured clothing. They belong to Test cricket as much as Test cricket belongs to them.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 22, 2011, 4:44 GMT

    Yes, but we will miss the one Indian batting great who could actually call Lords his home

  • Dummy4 on July 22, 2011, 1:47 GMT

    umm the last sentence as grand as it is, does not do the three justice. Lets drop the word Test from that statement and accept cricket for what it is. Any other form of cricket, as entertaining as it may be, is a slight to cricket

  • mahesh on July 21, 2011, 16:41 GMT

    A very touching article indeed.. The last sentence says it all..

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2011, 16:07 GMT

    Enough has been written about these 3 (quite a lot more than just "necessary and sufficient"). Time to see them in action.

  • Ash on July 21, 2011, 7:52 GMT

    Fantastic article! I would just like to say though I disagree that the best of test match batting is behind us. Ali Cook came to Oz with question marks over his head and scored a mountain of runs with Hussey 2nd & Trott 3rd. Now they weren't out there destroying attacks like Sehwag. They were out there grinding it out, Hussey while others consistently fell around him. Now this is no dig at Sehwag I think he is incredible and am sad I won't get to see him at Lords for this special occasion. I just think when you can look at a series like that and see that the batsmen who scored the most runs were the ones not willing to give their wickets away and were doing the hard yards out there it's makes me think test cricket is going to be just fine and if you ask me I wouldn't write off both Cook & Gambhir retiring as greats! As the old saying goes "Out with the old in with the new." But 1st as another old saying goes "Lets send them off in style!" Come on India!

  • Prashanth on July 21, 2011, 7:49 GMT

    my dear ckt lovers, i read in 1 of the comments tat DRAVID's centuries often end in a draw but think how valuable were they. off his 32 100's india have lost only 1 test in rest 31 100's i believe atlest 45% have come in indian wins n not to forget he always was slow coz he was ther @ the crease when ball was new till india found viru-gauti pair. so when he plyd slow n saw off those tricky session then other stroke makers wud rake up the runs. so DRAVID THE WALL srtans always TALL!!! i bet there may b a day when some batsman crosses 100 100's but can he face most num of balls in test ckt or stand @ the crease for same duration as WALL has done in his career ?????

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2011, 7:35 GMT

    Thank you Mr.Bal.Great article. Leaves you sort of sentimental. Must read for all the lovers of test cricket. Last sentence of the article stands out.Very well written article.

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2011, 7:14 GMT

    A well written article in deed. "They belong to Test cricket as much as Test cricket belongs to them." This line encapsulates the contribution they have made to Indian Cricket and Test Cricket. There is something which every one learn from the legends, is the commitment they have.

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2011, 5:20 GMT

    Really this is a series for the whole cricketing world to savour. Hope 20 years from now everybody in India will be as enthusiastic about a Test series as they are today. It is the duty of everyone, the administrators, the media, the players and we people who love Real Cricket, to keep alive the flame of Test cricket. Really such a glorious form of a sport should be taken forward for the future generations to enjoy.

  • Cricinfo on July 21, 2011, 4:38 GMT

    Thank you sri1ram, and anyone else who pointed out the Headingley url error. It has now been fixed. You should be able to open it

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