Ive 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,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 that 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 mid-wicket,and against the Pune Warriors,he paused in his approach towards the ball,let the ball bounce towards him and hit it in a beautiful arc straight over the bowlers head. And yes,when he got to a hundred he was happy in an understated way. I say that with intent because I havent quite figured out the unusual 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 already scored a few centuries. Rahane hasnt yet found his feet in international cricket. So lets wait,lets 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 he scores them at an average of 60. He cant 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 number three or as opener with Gambhir at that position) for as a good farmer will tell you,if you leave it too late the fruit is wasted. Lets pick him but leave out the hype just yet.
In fact,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,it strengthens their bond with their sport by providing that,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 isnt great for the sport either.
By choosing to play for the Rajasthan Royals,he has chosen well. Apart from being guaranteed sixteen games,he is part of a team that doesnt 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,has 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,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 something Imran Khan taught him.
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 isnt. And so Yadav will have to be a pioneer of sorts. He only has 92 first class wickets so far but his 23 from 6 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.
T20 cricket has its own skills but performances here can only tell you whether or not a player is good enough at this form. Extrapolating to international 50 over and Test cricket may not produce accurate conclusions.