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Filling the little master’s shoes

Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement was the biggest sporting spectacle of 2013.

Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane couldn’t stop staring at Sachin Tendulkar like a million others when the little master gave his last speech during his farewell Test at the Wankhede Stadium. Then they reverentially walked up to him and requested for a parting photograph in the dressing room.

While emotions ran high,for many it was the end of cricket. Tendulkar not only inspired the Ajinkya-Rohit pair to choose cricket but had given them a reason to love the sport over everything else too. As Tendulkar took a final lap of the Wankhede Stadium,many wondered who would carry the mantle of Mumbai’s legendary batsmanship forward. “Who next?” everyone thought on that November afternoon.

A month on — though a tad early to say this — two men in their mid-20s are taking giant strides to fill the boots of Tendulkar,donning Indian colours and going about cementing their places in the national team. It surely is a tough task for the youngsters to carry on with the legacy of Mumbai’s batting great. However,if their outings in 2013 are any indication,the pair is ensuring that Mumbai doggedness and flair are qualities that get represented with team India. It is as if the maestro’s most prized qualities — stylish strokeplay and fighting determination – were split into two juniors,with Sharma carrying the gene of style and Rahane of substance.

One look at 2013 and Rohit certainly looks like he has been on a dream run. Of the 28 ODIs played this year,Rohit averages 52 with 1196 runs. He scored a double (206) in an ODI against Australia (only the third in the world to) and with two hundreds and eight fifties this season,Rohit established himself as an opener in the limited -overs format. A Test debut followed soon after the double and he scored 177 on debut followed by a 111 in Mumbai against West Indies. Under his captaincy,Mumbai Indians clinched their maiden title followed by the Champions League and it was his leadership quality too that came to the fore thereafter.

Rahane,on the other hand,might be a slow starter but the way he’s tackled South African conditions especially with his assured 96 in Kingsmead,has certainly changed people’s perceptions. Rahane not only showed sterling temperament,but with scores of 47,51 not out and 96 in the two Tests,he displayed guts to face the lethal pace attack on foreign soil.

While Rohit might have struggled in South African conditions,he will be looking for one long stay at the crease in 2014. The 26-year-old is certainly not thinking of replacing Tendulkar’s legacy but all eyes in Mumbai will be on him. “What he (Tendulkar) has done for Mumbai cricket,Indian cricket is huge. I’ve just started my Test career,there is a long way to go. I just want to enjoy my time in the middle,whenever I get an opportunity I’ll try to do well. I’m really not thinking about what I have to do if I have to replace him. There’s still a long way to go,my career is just two Test matches old. I have a long way to go,” he had said before flying to South Africa.

However,if the Rohit-Rahane pair has to make it big,their overseas records will be the benchmark they’ll be judged on. Their class and talent will only be evaluated when they score big abroad. All greats became legends because they could match their home performance on foreign soil.

Even Rohit’s school coach Dinesh Lad agrees with the argument that his pupil will have to find a solution to his struggles abroad. “Sachin (Tendulkar) became bigger because he scored well abroad too. It will be hard to find Sachin’s replacement but it will be natural to look up to Rohit for big runs in the coming years because he has done it in the past season,” Lad explains,voicing hope that his student will make it big in the coming days.

Despite seven years of international experience Rohit has taken his time to cement his place in the Indian side. Fortune seems to have changed when he was asked to open in the home series against England. His performances during Champions Trophy and India’s tour of West Indies made sure regular openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were left to toil hard in domestic cricket. Even though Mumbai will take time to get over Tendulkar,Rohit-Ajinkya are ensuring that they slowly fill the big shoes. A shoe each,if you please.

devendra.pandey@expressindia.com

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