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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Weekly Sports Newsletter: Why Virat, Rohit, Pujara and Rahane will fall short of the Fab Four

For a country historically blessed with an unending pool of batting talent, new names of retired icons get periodically added to the scale, putting the newbies under pressure to reach those lofty heights.

Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | New Delhi |
Updated: March 6, 2022 10:40:41 am
(From left) Virat Kohli. Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. (File)

Cricket fans use a unique measuring scale for the notional gradation of young Indian Test batsmen. The markings on this foot-rule of the mind have names, not numbers. To predict the career path of a present-day batter, they make him stand in front of the Wall of Fame.

On the top of the iconic scale are Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, with Rahul Dravid not too far behind. Below the Top 3, and not always equidistant, are the names of Laxman, Sehwag, Vengsarkar, Viswanath, Ganguly, Amarnath. Further down are the popular levels of comparisons like Vinod Kambli, Sanjay Manjrekar, Akash Chopra.

For a country historically blessed with an unending pool of batting talent, new names of retired icons get periodically added to the scale, putting the newbies under pressure to reach those lofty heights.

Around the country, at maidans where prodigies continue to get younger and sharper, the sighting of a new star often triggers speculations about his placing on that hallowed scale.

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Will he continue to rise like Tendulkar or sink like Kambli? Is he a Dravid or will he end up as a Manjrekar? Prithvi Shaw, they once said, had it in him to rise to the Sehwag level but that valuation wasn’t wise.

Very early in his international red ball career, Virat Kohli was earmarked to zoom up and be in the stratosphere where only Gavaskar, Tendulkar and Dravid floated around. He seemed the odds-on favourite to eventually retire with Tendulkar kind of numbers.

Kohli didn’t disappoint. He sustained his momentum for long. The year he hit 30, he had 5 Test tons, sending his average to the mid-50s. It was the classic mid-career peak that all greats hit. Tendulkar was almost 59 at one point of his glorious chapter, the spike helping him to end with a career ending average of 53.

100th Test is an important milestone to re-judge a batsman, reassess him and make them stand in front of the wall again. Kohli at 33 has played 100 Tests and scored 8000 plus runs. Does he have it in him to do that one more time, all over again? Tendulkar in 200 Tests had close to 16,000 runs.

Those are unreal numbers and it’s unfair to compare Tendulkar, not everyone starts their Test career at 16 and plays till 39, with anyone. Maybe, the Test average will give a better idea.

Kohli’s average has dropped to 50. Is this a last leg slowing down or an unusual temporary dip before the launch of Kohli 2.0? Many say it’s the former. A few Test matches without a big score can see Kohli’s Test average drop below 50. For the top-of-the-scale elite batsman that’s seen as an embarrassing downgrade.

Ask any retired Test cricketer and they will tell you that a player with 100 plus Tests and 50 plus average has a bonafide right to pull rank over those who missed the elite benchmark and were relegated to Grade Two – 90 plus Tests, 40 plus average. Don’t we know, cricket has a thing for those magical numbers 50 and 100.

After getting over the early ups and downs of misleading Test numbers, Tendulkar and Dravid stayed checked into the 50s, they stayed there for good. Gavaskar’s consistency was phenomenal, he was in the 50s or more, all through his career.

Kohli’s not the only one from his generation to be called the Next Big India batsmen. Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma were called the next Dravid and Laxman during the u-19 days. Ajinkya Rahane could have been a one-of-a-kind Indian batsman with no equals, considering his early success abroad.

Kohli & Co were truly world class in Tests, maybe on their day, best in the business. They do qualify as Test greats. Though the retirement of these men in their early 30s is still far away, it can be safely said that they might not end up disturbing the order of the Indian batting pantheon.

In a recent interview to The Indian Express, Tendulkar was, for once, at loss of words when asked how his record was significantly better than others. How exactly did he crack the run-making code? He thought hard and spoke about the freedom he got when batting in the company of Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag and Ganguly.

Maybe, the present bunch couldn’t coincide their peaks with each other. Virat, Rohit, Pujara and Rahane didn’t present a combined front. The original Fab Four might have their occasional differences – Dravid vs Ganguly during Chappel era, Dravid declaration with Tendulkar on 194 – but the fissures weren’t permanent or deep. BCCI president Ganguly appointed Dravid the India coach, vital evidence of the bond and trust they shared.

India under Kohli enjoyed unprecedented success but the batting unit didn’t have the aura of the past. As if governed by some spoilsport cyclic trend, it has been the bowlers who deserve the Fab Four label.

Listening to Mohammad Shami, during a recent Idea Exchange, one got the impression that the bowling unit lacks the intrigue that’s associated with the batting department. Kohli vs Sharma has been a long-running drama and Rahane and Pujara also haven’t been too happy with the way they have been treated.

Without any apprehension or any lame attempt at modesty, Shami said he was part of India’s best-ever pace battery that got along famously.

The genial pacer was endearing in praise of Bumrah. No egos, no one-up-manship, Shami said he would love to have a yorker like his new-ball partner. “I enjoy bowling with Jassi, Umesh, Ishant and all of them. We know each other’s ability. The best quality of this bowling unit is that whenever someone is down, we lift each other up and give confidence. These are the things one remembers in life. We walk together through thick and thin.”

Imagine, if Bumrah & Co played for the team that had the batting Fab Four.

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Sandeep Dwivedi

National Sports Editor

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