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HindustanTimes Sat,19 Apr 2014

Features

Cricket’s new stars
Pradeep Magazine, Hindustan Times
March 30, 2013
First Published: 20:51 IST(30/3/2013)
Last Updated: 01:09 IST(31/3/2013)
Murli Vijay congratulates Shikhar Dhawan for his performance after the end of third day's play of the 3rd Test match against Australia in Mohali. (PTI)

The Indian cricket team and its captain MS Dhoni are now back in favour. The whipping boys of the media and fans alike, after their series of failures at home and aboard, are now being hailed as the all-conquering heroes, who created history by bashing the Australians 4-0, the same score line that had traumatized the Indians not so long ago.

Revenge they say is sweet, sweeter still if the opponents are squeezed to the last pulp. Its taste can be heady when those very people who were gorging on Dhoni's misery, are now hailing him as the finest Indian captain ever.

There are no grey areas in this Indian story of victory and defeat. It is either all black or all white. So, till the next round of matches against South Africa, in conditions and against a team more hostile and strong than the English and Australians, no one should grudge this Indian team the plaudits it is getting.

Home-advantage is a term in cricket that generally means the hosts are unbeatable in their own conditions. That was true for India as well, till England came along and breached that smug confidence to win a series for the first time in India.

In the backdrop of India’s ignominious feat of losing eight Test matches on a trot in England and Australia, that was a result which shook the core of India’s test cricket foundations.

A fan’s confidence was shaken further when the intimidating Pakistani pace attack made a meal of the Indian batsmen even in the one-day format.

The anchors screamed on television channels, the print headlines matching them word by word as Dhoni’s obituary was being written in cold blood.

Just as the thundering clouds were about to subsume this Indian team, in walked Michael Clarke and his inexperienced Australians, only to be butchered by the Indians.

All of a sudden India discovered new heroes, new talent and a new Dhoni, who applied himself to Test cricket and its demands with a vigour and zeal not seen before.

This is not the time and occasion to raise concerns on what lies ahead, as India will for the next year and a half play a series of matches in South Africa, England and New Zealand.

Nor the time to dwell on how much did squeezing the wickets of all bounce and pace and literally doctoring them to suit our spinners, result in this historic sweep.

As the old order gave way to the new, and the new showcased their talent with unfettered abundance, let us hail them for what they achieved.

No one knows, till proven otherwise, that they are not the bright future of one more new India. An India of the Dravids, Laxmans, Gangulys, Kumble and even of a Tendulkar.

Isn't hope the beast that sustains and nourishes the world, including an Indian cricket fan?

Cheteshwar Pujara, 25
He does not have the face which could launch a thousand products. A man of conservative looks and understated persona, Pujara has no quirks, no idiosyncrasy which the modern world loves to see in their stars.

He is your next door neighbour's son whom you often meet early in the morning at a grocery shop, buying a pouch of Mother Dairy milk.

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One thing which he does better than anyone else in this team is that he bats like a champion, tames the best of bowling attacks and scores runs with the ease and fluidity of a maestro born to conquer the cricketing world.

Pujara hails from Rajkot in Saurashtra, has been trained for hours, days, weeks, months and years by his father Arvind, among whose modest achievements is that he has played in Ranji Trophy for the Railways.

The coaching by his father must be of the highest quality, as the son has all the ingredients that could one day make him into one of the truly greats of the game.

Only 25 years of age and 13 matches old in test cricket, Pujara has already done enough statistically to be talked of in the same breath as someone like Rahul Dravid.

As if that praise was not enough, there are many who believe he has already shown more than the Wall like qualities Dravid possessed. If patience is his virtue, aggression, when needed, is his strong ally. 

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Unruffled and unflappable, his calm and assurance at the crease, backed by technical brilliance, nimble footwork and a vast array of shots, makes one believe that India has found a gem who could well be an ideal replacement for Dhoni at the helm,  whenever the time is ripe to replace the latter.

Shikhar Dhawan, 27
Words like mercurial, irrepressible, flamboyant, effervescent come to mind the moment one thinks of Shikhar Dhawan.

He is a free soul and cares a damn what the world thinks of him as long as he is comfortable doing what he thinks is best for him and that could be even keeping a moustache and giving it an expansive twirl from time to time.

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He has set the domestic stage alight with his fiery, explosive knocks for Delhi, though not with the kind of consistency that could make one believe he would do the same while playing for the country.

At 27, his time seemed up till the lack of form of his teammates Virendra Sehwag and Gautam Gambir, catapulted him to centre stage.

Right from ball one of his Test debut, Dhawan seemed to be in divine touch. In the collective history of Test cricket, no individual has stroked the ball with such grace, power, timing and control as this man did on March 16, 2013, at Mohali, making him appear a veteran of 100 Tests and not someone playing only his first Test.

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It took him just over four hours and 174 balls to stun the cricketing world with drives on the up and an occasional pull of such imperious quality that everyone wondered where had this man been hiding and was this for real?

A fractured finger led to his being left out of the Delhi Test. But be sure, the world is waiting with bated breath to see if that innings was blessed by the gods, or is this man capable of an encore? If he is, then India and the world have found an entertainer par excellence.

Ravindra Jadeja, 24
Conjure up a player who is razor-sharp in the field, has a bullet-like throwing arm, whacks the ball true and hard, and can roll his arm over with an accuracy of a sharp-shooter and you have a quintessential limited overs cricketer in your stable.

Jadeja, too, was believed to be one such player, who fetched around Rs.10 crore in the IPL auction.

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He failed to match the expectations of his IPL masters and was in wilderness for a while, till two triple hundreds in the Ranji Trophy got him an entry into the Test team.

There may be a question mark on his batting abilities, but his left-arm spin has bemused and befuddled the best of Australian batsmen.

He is so accurate with his off stump line and length that it is impossible to hit him out of attack. He rattles the stumps with balls that are expected to turn but go straight through. And when they expect the ball not to turn, it deviates just enough to hit the timber.

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Jadeja has been a revelation both against England and Australia, giving his skipper Dhoni the option to play three spinners  and two pacers.

At the moment the problem area is his batting and no one is sure whether the mammoth scores he has in first class cricket are true enough indicators of his run-making ability.

In more difficult conditions, when the batsmen will struggle and the tail will appear longer than desired, he will have to emerge as a true all-rounder  to be not counted as a flash in the pan.

Murali Vijay, 29
At 29, he is the oldest among the new sensations. This opener from Chennai has had a long apprenticeship in first class cricket and was picked and discarded twice before in the Indian team.

Despite his big frame, he is a stylist to the core but can be temperamental in his approach to batting. Back in the team against the Australians, a team against whom he made his debut in 2008, Murali showed a new steel to his batting, where he traded his natural aggression for patience which helped him construct big scores. 

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He is a man who loves to showcase his stroke-play even before settling down or getting adjusted to the pace of the wicket, the nature of the attack or the prevailing conditions, one of the reasons why he could not cement his place earlier in the Indian team.

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This time around, indiscretion gave way to caution, apparent in the manner he paced his innings, attacking only when sure that the ball’s length merited an extravagant stroke.

He is a delightful driver of the ball through the covers that combine well with his wristy strokes to on-side. He also has the ability to decimate the spinners, hitting them very often out of the ground.

Whether he has it in him to succeed and unleash his vast repertoire of shots in conditions where the ball is bouncing and seaming, is a test he will have to pass soon in South Africa before we pronounce with finality that he is here to stay.

Ravichandran Ashwin, 26
His ponderous gait and big frame, and the craft he pursues — off spin — reminds one of a world gone by. Yet he made his mark and got noticed not in the traditional form of the game, but in its most crudest, the T-20.

If IPL has been the grave-yard of Test cricketers, Ashwin has shown that the flaws that creep into a player’s technique due to the requirements in the shortest version of the game, can be overcome by hard-work and an astute mind.

And if you have the unusual skill of spinning the ball away from the bat with the flick of your middle finger (carrom ball) and can control it like a puppet on a leash, then success on slow, spinning tracks is guaranteed, as he has shown in the series against Australia.

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The 26-year-old who picked this finger-flicked spin craft in the streets of Chennai and realised it can be emulated even in international cricket, after watching Ajantha Mendis do it for Sri Lanka, was the most dreaded bowler against the Australians.

After his failure against England, Ashwin has obviously done a rethink on his craft and realised that to be among wickets in the longest version of the game, one has to think out a batsman and not just be miserly with giving runs.

Has India found a spinner who could replicate his performance in conditions hostile to his craft? Even he won’t be sure of that till he puts his wares on display in the series against South Africa.

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