I have been following your career since its beginning in 2007 and have had high hopes from you ever since. You had a fantastic start to your international career, blossoming in the T20 World Cup in 2007 and the Commonwealth Bank series in Australia in 2008.
It was palpable to see from the very outset that you are a player blessed with a lot of flair and natural ability. You seemed to possess all the credentials required to succeed at the international level and quite understandably as a result, were being hailed as the best young batsman in India at the time.
The most pleasing aspect of your batting has always been the amount of time you seem to have on your hands even when playing against genuinely quick bowlers, a rare occurrence, especially among Indian batsmen. But it has been 6-7 years since your entry into international cricket and you are still looking to establish a permanent foothold in international cricket.
You were very young when you started off in 2007 and could be forgiven for failing to make full use of your opportunities, as a result of which you eventually lost your place in the ODI team. Meanwhile, the likes of Kohli and Raina grasped their opportunities and overtook you in the pecking order. It became difficult for you to force your way back in to the playing XI when everyone was available, with the incumbents in the middle-order performing really well on such a consistent basis that they did not give a chance to those on the fringes to get a look-in.
You missed out on a place in the victorious Indian squad for the 2011 World Cup which must have been a huge setback for you. Post that World Cup though, you have featured regularly in the shorter formats but unfortunately, your performances haven’t justified the abundant talent at your disposal.
You were picked as a spare batsman in the Test squad for the 2011-12 tour of Australia. India fared poorly in the 1st 3 tests and were 3-0 down, with the senior batsmen failing to make scores of any note. There were calls for you to be included in the playing XI for the 4th Test match in Adelaide in place of one of the senior batsmen as it was felt that it was time to look towards the future.
The team management ignored those calls and stuck with the senior but non-performing batsmen for the 4th Test match too. Cricket pundits and fans alike were mystified at your exclusion for the 4th Test and you had a wonderful opportunity to vindicate them by scoring runs in the ODI series that followed but you disappointed once again.
The year 2013 looked like the year when you finally came to realize your vast potential. You were given the captaincy of Mumbai Indians in the IPL and showed a sense of maturity in your performances as captain, which was vital in leading them to the IPL title. Then, you were promoted to the opening spot for India in the Champions Trophy in England by coach Duncan Fletcher and captain MS Dhoni.
The best place to bat in one-day cricket is at the top of the order and this was a golden opportunity you couldn’t afford to miss. You seemed to thrive on the responsibility given to you and scored 177 runs in the tournament in relatively tough conditions against two new balls at either end and forged a good understanding with Shikhar Dhawan at the top of the order.
I felt that you had finally found your feet in international cricket and could foresee you opening in ODI cricket for a considerable period of time. You had a majestic one-day series against Australia at home shortly after, where you became only the 3rd batsman to score a double century in ODI cricket, joining your compatriots Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag in achieving the landmark. It was then followed by your long overdue Test debut in a two-match Test series against West Indies at home. You got off to a cracking start in Test cricket with two hundreds in your first two Test matches.
The South African tour was to follow and I felt that you were one of a handful of batsmen who would succeed in South African conditions. After all, not only do you like the ball coming onto the bat but had also enjoyed a fairly prolonged spell of success prior to embarking on the tour of South Africa.
Your confidence would’ve been sky high which should have held you in good stead while facing up to the challenges posed by South Africa in their own backyard. But you seem to have reverted to type since the tour of South Africa as you have racked up just 457 runs in 16 matches in all formats at an underwhelming average of 26.88.
You are just 26 years old despite having played international cricket for close to 7 years and there is a lot of time for you to make amends for your indifferent career so far. Your biggest ailment has been your tendency to poke at deliveries outside off-stump when you are beginning your innings which has led to your downfall on numerous occasions.
You have all the shots in the book and I understand that it can be tempting to display your wide array of strokes when you arrive to the crease but I urge you to take a leaf out of Kohli’s book and exercise a bit of diligence when starting off your innings. The most vulnerable phase for any batsman is the first 20-25 balls when he hasn’t got his eye in and if you can get past that vulnerable phase unscathed, I’m sure that you can go on to amass big scores a lot more consistently.
There is a perception of you being a touch lazy and careless borne out of your languid stroke play which looks stylish and attractive when you are in good form and scoring runs but also leads to massive frustration and anger when you aren’t.
It is an absolute joy to watch you bat when your game is in good order with very few having the gift of making batting look as easy as you do. If you can iron out some of the silly errors you are prone to making and cash in when you are set instead of throwing your wicket away, you will without doubt be one of the pillars of the Indian batting line-up for the next decade.
- Sports & Recreation
- Duncan Fletcher