Team India enjoyed its most successful period ever in cricket in the last four years. Without a balanced bowling attack, India still managed to hold on the Test Mace for a year and half before the reality struck through the drubbing in England series. Batting has been the major strength and truly an asset. The batting lineup of India with the so called “Fab Four” holding on the middle order and Delhi pair slotting themselves into the opening position and Dhoni to follow meant seldom was India worried over their batting. Bowling continued to be the Achilles Heel but still Team India managed to find a saviour in Zaheer supported by Ishanth and Sreesanth. Harbhajan had been a cause of worry but that is Bowling and another Cup of Tea.
Coming to the batting lineup, ever since Ganguly retired at the end of Australia series in 2008, there has been a cause of worry. The No 6 slot supposed to be a bridge between the middle order and lower order has been mismanaged completely by the selectors. It is an art to bat at No 6. If there is a good score posted by the top order, the man has to add up to the total in a quick time. In case of a top order failure his role is to shepherd the tail to make a decent total on board. This position does require a specific talent.
The case of India’s No 6 in the past 3 years has been worrying. They began with Yuvraj Singh being played there. Having waited in the wings for years in the shadow of the Legends, Yuvraj began with a very good supportive role to Tendulkar in the chase against England at Chepauk. Following Newzeland series was a failure asserting the fact that he is susceptible to pace bowling. The Srilanka series in late 2009 saw him make few decent scores but he failed to convert his innings into big hundreds. The tour of Bangladesh was another failure after which he was injured. He made a return for the Srilanka series in July and started with a good fifty knock. But a fateful injury meant, Raina made his debut the next match and managed to hold his place with a century of debut. “Water Boy” controversy and his loss of form combined with personal issues saw his dropped not just from the test side but ODI side too. He did manage to comeback with a bang to the ODI side with a Man of Series award in ODIs. Another injury in England series meant, he lost the opportunity to prove himself abroad and two failures in West Indies tests recently finds himself being ousted from the side. His ODI career has been very successful with 8000 plus runs and 100 odd wickets. A World Cup win with Player of the Series award, fastest fifty in T20s (any format for that matter) and reputation as a clean striker of ball etc make him a Great in limited overs Cricket. Vulnerability to short ball and technical flaw against quality spin has seen him having a pretty ordinary test career so far.
Subramaniam Badrinath was the next one in line at no 6. Badri had been a phenomenon in Domestic Cricket piling loads of runs season after season. He has been in the squad for a few series without making his debut. His opportunity came with Yuvraj’s injury in the South Africa’s tour early 2010. On a Nagpur wicket against a firing Dale Steyn, Badri’s performance was a fighting fifty giving company to Sehwag. His next two innings were failures and soon he found himself dumped. Another year of spectacular success in domestic cricket and IPL found him on plane to the depeleted Indian squad to West Indies in May 2011. He again failed to live up to this potential in ODIs and was never given a go at tests. An injury at the start of the present season and age being on the wrong side, his career prospect with Team India looks bleak. His failure is more due to the lack of accommodation time and inability to transit between domestic and international cricket.
Suresh Raina touted by Greg Chapell as an exciting prospect made his Test debut at the Emerald Islands, some 5 years after his ODI debut. By then he even held the record for most ODI runs without Test debut. He replaced an injured Yuvraj in the second test and immediately kick started his career with a century on debut. However in the subsequent matches he did not make the headlines. Just a single knock of substance against Australia apart his 2010-11 season was poor. Pujara pipped him for the spot at South Africa, thanks to Raina’s reputation of vulnerability to pace. He did have a fruitful West Indies tour followed by a poor series against England saw him out of favour. He is Yuvraj’s successor in this regard.
Chateshwar Pujara briefly held the No 6 spot in South Africa with decent returns. However he has the ability to manage to sustain in test side and it is time he proves his potential. The banana skin situation this year has arisen because of his untimely injury. Virat Kohli had an ordinary debut against West Indies playing at No 5 but he is likely to take field at the No 6 slot in last test against West Indies. Given his ODI exploits and his sound technique, he can be expected to sustain in the test squad. Rohith Sharma is another promising youngster with sound technique. Earlier his temperament was questioned but now he has found his feet back with string of useful performances and found a place in test squad. He has promise too. Ajinkya Rahane though an opener/top order batsmen can also be slotted at no 6 if the need maybe.
The issue lingering here is that, with such a strong batting lineup on offer, selectors had the luxury of experimenting. They have experimented but it has been a Musical Chair rather. Anyone given a place in test team deserves a fairly decent run. Unfortunately Yuvraj apart, no one had been given a decent run. The selection has been more on reputation than on merit. The worrying factor is that with terrific batters in the lineup, failure of No 6 has not been exposed much. But three of India’s legends being in the twilight of their career, if the selectors continue their trend of playing musical chair, the next generation of Test middle order will be brittle without the necessary accommodation period for the youngsters facing the huge task of replacing some the game’s biggest names. If the present scenario of inconsistent selection mentality continues, it is going to hurt India’s development into a strong side in future. Hope the present incumbent Kohli atleast gets a fair run. Will the selectors heed?