April 20, 2012

The next big things? Not just yet

It's too early to burden the likes of Ajinkya Rahane and Umesh Yadav with that label

I've enjoyed watching Ajinkya Rahane bat, for there is much to like about him. He seems calm and unhurried, has shots rather than words in his arsenal, and comes through in his limited interactions as being fairly modest and ambitious (the two can go together, by the way). He quite likes to show the full face of the bat, and while there is the occasional concession to T20 (clearing the front foot), he would rather hit down the ground than to cow corner.

Indicative of that are two shots he played in his last two games. Against the Royal Challengers he danced down the wicket to Muralitharan and cleared cover rather than midwicket, and against Deccan Chargers he paused in his approach towards the ball on one delivery, let it bounce towards him and hit it in a beautiful arc straight over the bowler's head. And yes, when he got to a hundred he was happy in an understated way. I say that with intent, because I haven't quite figured out the popular combination of an angry expletive and joy!

But to label him the next big thing in Indian cricket would be dangerous and, from his point of view, possibly counter-productive. You can only be the next big thing when you have made significant strides at that level. Virat Kohli could be called the next big thing in one-day international cricket a few months ago because he had scored a few centuries by then. Rahane hasn't yet found his feet in international cricket. So let's wait, let's keep the superlatives away for a while.

Admittedly his record at the qualifying stage for international cricket is outstanding. He has 18 centuries and 18 fifties in 50 matches, is closing in on 5000 first-class runs, and scores them at an average of 68. He can do more, but these numbers are at best indicators - they do not guarantee success at the next level. But this is the right time to pick him (whether at No. 3 or as opener alongside Gautam Gambhir) for as a good farmer will tell you, if you leave it too late, the fruit is wasted. Let's pick him, but leave out the hype for now.

I fear this obsession with the "next big thing" is a marketing, or more specifically a show-business, requirement. It has a few things in its favour - it provides fans with a topic for conversation, and thus strengthens their bond with their sport; it gives you another reason to watch a cricket match. But it puts a lot of pressure on the player himself, for he can easily start believing what he reads, and while it is true that at this level you have to overcome expectation, losing a player isn't great for the sport either.

By choosing to play for the Rajasthan Royals, Rahane has done well. Apart from being guaranteed 16 games, he is part of a team that doesn't fuss over things, that tries to make the best of what it has, and is generally pretty no-nonsense - a bit like its current captain, who is quite generous when it comes to sharing knowledge.

I am just as excited watching Umesh Yadav, for he is a rare species in Indian cricket - a fast bowler who wants to bowl fast. He has a lovely bowling action, with a wonderful rhythm to it, and swings the ball at pace. He is at an interesting stage in his career, where it is clear that he can bowl every ball, but as Wasim Akram told me, he's not quite sure of how to mix deliveries up. Wasim says, from personal experience, that a fast bowler after learning how to bowl a ball has to learn which ball to bowl when - which Imran Khan taught him till he himself was ready.

A batsman like a Rahane or a Kohli has many sources of knowledge, for India is, at heart, a batting country. But a fast-bowling country India isn't. And so Yadav will have to be a pioneer of sorts. He only has 92 first-class wickets so far, but his 23 from six tests have been mighty impressive. He could be the "next big thing" in Indian bowling, for Ishant Sharma has abdicated that post in recent times, but a season of international cricket in home conditions will give us a better idea.

Harsha Bhogle commentates on the IPL and other cricket, and is a television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

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  • Arup on April 23, 2012, 19:47 GMT

    Bat him at number 3 in the upcoming series vs Sri Lanka. He'll do well on slow, low wickets, but his real test will come overseas, however he looks like he has the technique. Once he has established himself at 3, make him open with Gambhir. The greats of Indian cricket all started in the middle order - Ganguly started at 3, but made most of his runs at 5/6. Laxman started at 3, but made most of his runs at 5/6, Dravid started at 6, but moved up to 3. Kohli seems to be more suited to 5/6, especially because I feel he would be able to accelerate when batting with the tail, and is also a good player of spin, so leave him there.

  • Naresh on April 23, 2012, 17:22 GMT

    Lets not hide the fact that new INDIAN BATSMAN fail with high bounce on foreign fields. Indian pace bowlers do not have the stamina to compete with continous bolwing fast foreign pace bowlers. Having said that only KOHLI and YADAV look capable. We need a team of good players otherwise our limited talent buckle as there is no backup from the other end. I like ROHIT SHARMA but he is missing the resilence we see in past players. Rahane has been exposed to pace batteries but this is on Indian pitches.

  • Vasudevan on April 23, 2012, 10:23 GMT

    Ajinkya Rahane has to walk into the Indian team, in any form of cricket. He has the required temparament and calibre. Are we going to wait until he reaches the age of 30+? The T-20 in Sri Lanka would be a great start since it is subcontinent wicket, and cannot harm Rahane's career too much.

    Here is my probable list (knock out two from this for final 16) Shikar Dhiwan, Kohli, Gambhir, Raina, Rohit, Manoj Tiwary, Rahane, Dinesh Kartik, Dhoni, Piyush Chawla, Vinay Kumar, Irfan Pathan, Dinda, Munaf, Umesh Yadav, Pragyan Ojha, Ashwin, R Jadeja

    Dhoni can bring the best in the above, and say adios after a grandstand finish in Colombo.

  • Shakti on April 23, 2012, 7:34 GMT

    With the tour of Sri Lanka ahead,India have the oppurtunity to give all the young players test oppurtunities.That means Mukund,Rahane,Rohit Sharma,Manoj Tiwary,Pujara,Kohli,Yadav & Aaron with just Tendulkar,Zaheer Khan,Saha keeping & Gambhir as captain.This idea can't hurt as India can't go any lower than they are.

  • Deepak on April 22, 2012, 9:08 GMT

    Rahane looks good and should be given more opportunities.

    But we are seeing repetitively failed players getting more chance Example: 1)Raina 2)Jadeja

    Players who has got chance 1)Murali Vijay 2)Abhinav Mukund 3)W Saha.

    is it just coincidence that Captain, Chief Selector and all these failed players represent a Team owned by BCCI head.

  • Anit on April 21, 2012, 22:38 GMT

    Just based on performances, Rahane should have picked ahead of Rohit Sharma, Saha, Badri, and Murali Vijay. While Rohit Sharma has technic, he hasn't shown good head so far. He has been lot of opportunities but has not cemented his position.

  • Arul on April 21, 2012, 22:07 GMT

    Rahane is far better than Pujara (a one-off hero). He deserves a decent run of chance in the test match level. He has got a great domestic record (so does Badrinath), I want to see him how he performs at the high level. Umesh looks very solid along with Dinda. Zak would be very happy to see one of them on his side.

  • Bhosdi on April 21, 2012, 21:20 GMT

    No dearth of talent in India - the vast riches created by India extend to the rich vein of its talent. India can field at least 3 top international teams in a world cup if it were to be held tomorrow.

  • U on April 21, 2012, 17:00 GMT

    Rahane should be selected forthe next test series. He should be given a decent run to see if he can establish himself in all conditions domestic and international. He is one of the most promising young batsmen in the country but needs to prove himself at the international level, which can only happen if gets his chances and a fair run at that.

    Umesh Yadav is also a tremendous prospect. I hope he is able to sustain his pace and intensity and does not fade away after a few years of cricket. I dont know why people are comparing Philander and him and trying to bring down one or the other. Why cant we just enjoy both these very promising fast bowlers? We really need as many good fast bowlers as possible on the international scene and the likes of Yadav, Philander, Steve Finn, James Pattinson, Cummins etc will certainly make the international cricket scene more interesting.

  • Dummy4 on April 21, 2012, 16:08 GMT

    Over looking Rahane for Tests repeatedly and giving out freebie debuts to Vijay, Mukund, and even Saha as pure batsmen is an insult and a farce... No wonder India isn't becoming a juggernaut like 90s/2000s Aussies or 70-80s WIndies... Though 90% of the blame goes to our 'Speed' bowlers like Praveen, Vinay, Abhimanyu, Jaidev Unadkat.. Free All You Can Eat Dinners for Test Batsmen

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