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It's too early to burden the likes of Ajinkya Rahane and Umesh Yadav with that label
April 20, 2012
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 hereFeeds: Harsha Bhogle
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