Young batsmen are having a ball in domestic cricket, giving India reason to look with hope at an era without Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS. Laxman, which may dawn sooner rather than later.
India finished 2009 at the top of the ICC Test rankings, but to stay there they must start looking for replacements for these batting lynchpins. The good news: while the top batsmen were on national duty, this season’s Ranji Trophy threw up quite a few contenders.
The top 10 run-getters in India’s premier domestic competition, after the quarterfinals, include seven batsmen who are not yet 25 (see box). All of them have amassed more than 500 runs at an average of no less than 44.76 (Uday Kaul) with at least five 50-plus scores, which proves their consistency. The best, Ajinkya Rahane, is scoring his runs at 108.71.
The average age of the top 10 is 24, despite the presence of Wasim Jaffer (31), S. Badrinath (29) and Parvinder Singh (28).
Age in India is often disputed. However, these batsmen are young even by other parameters. Six of the seven have had no more than five seasons in first-class cricket. Three (Manish Pandey, Chirag Pathak and Arun Karthik) are only in their second season.
The seventh, Parthiv Patel, may seem to have been around forever, but he started at an absurdly young age. Both he and Kaul also keep wickets.
The list will undergo some changes after the semi-finals and the final, but the pack chasing the top 10 include Rohit Sharma (22, fourth season), Puneet Bisht (23, fourth), K.B. Pawan (22, third), Sahil Kukreja (24, fifth), Ganesh Satish (21, second), Abhinav Mukund (19, third) and Amit Verma (22, third).
In 2008-09, too, the top 10 run getters in Ranji Trophy included eight batsmen who were under-25 and seven who were into their fifth season or fewer. Cheteswar Pujara (thrice) and Rahane (twice) have been in the top 10 list more than once in the last three seasons.
“One explanation for the trend could be that young players now have more opportunities and facilities available to them,” said Baroda coach Paras Mhambrey.
The former India medium-pacer mentioned the U-19 World Cups and the IPL, which give youngsters the perfect launch pad. Pujara, Rahane and Pandey have all been part of India U-19s and Pandey burst into the limelight with a century in IPL 2, the only one scored by an Indian.
Saurashtra coach Debu Mitra said cricketers are now being forced to learn how to handle pressure at a younger age. “Remember, even at U-19 World Cups, there is a lot of pressure on the cricketers.”
India U-19 are the defending world champions and the captain of the triumph, Virat Kohli, is now in the senior ODI team.
“It is a very good sign for Indian cricket,” Mhambrey said.