Assessing the Successors to Sachin Tendulkar in the India Test Team
The dust may still be settling on Sachin Tendulkar's gracious departure from cricket (assuming he doesn't get tempted back by a lucrative Twenty20 gig that is), but with a major tour of South Africa approaching, who will become the new leader of India's batting order?
Fortunately for MS Dhoni, the subcontinent side are currently blessed with an array of batsmen already on the up as evidenced by the recent whitewash of the West Indies.
Let's take a look at some of the leading candidates whose job it will be to continue India's transition into the post-Tendulkar era.
And if one of them fails, it might not be long before this 14-year-old teenager is donning the whites for his country.
Despite being a key part of the India U19 side in his youth, it took nine first-class seasons for Shikhar Dhawan to make his five-day bow, but it was worth the wait.
Having been a key component of India's ODI team for a few years, the Delhi-born strokemaker batted like the red ball was white against Australia to score the fastest century on debut by any batsman in the history of cricket.
Apart from possessing one of cricket's finest moustaches, Dhawan also boasts confidence in abundance and excellent all-round fitness. This, combined with a full array of shots and being equally comfortable against pace and spin, make him a highly-prized wicket.
There are few chinks in the left-hander's armour, but a tendency to play outside off-stump seems to be a constant temptation. The forthcoming tour of South Africa against arguably the best pace attack in cricket will surely put this to the test.
With Virender Sehwag's career all but finished and Gautam Gambhir on the wane, Dhawan's performances at the top of the order should see him retain possession of one of the opening spots for the foreseeable future.
A player more in the mould of Rahul Dravid than Sachin Tendulkar, Cheteshwar Pujara has taken to Test cricket like a duck to water.
Despite a knee injury ruling him out in 2011, the 25-year-old has become the joint-fastest Indian batsman to reach 1,000 runs in terms of matches played and has taken ownership of the No.3 position.
Relying on crease occupation and an unflappable temperament, the Saurashtra man likes to bat for longer periods as evidenced by his career three triple centuries already. His style of play is tailor-made for Test cricket.
Pujara's ability to change gears when the situation demands could be an issue while a perceived weakness against short bowling is sure to be fully explored by the world's premium quicks.
With age on his side and the perfect game to succeed in the longest form of the game, Pujara has the opportunity to become the cornerstone of India's middle order for years to come.
However, the Delhi-born strokemaker's Test match status isn't quite as highly regarded. After coming unstuck on his red-ball international debut in the Caribbean, his second coming proved to be more successful, culminating in a mature ton against the Australians at Adelaide.
Kohli lives up to the classic cricketing stereotype of a "wristy player from the subcontinent" with an array of legside strokes to die for. Added to this is an innate ability to change gears depending on the situation, which makes him a genuine match-winner.
Earlier in his career, the 25-year-old's success went to his head and he was prone to getting out when appearing well set. These days he appears to be more focused, but this is sure to be examined in the unforgiving arena of Test cricket.
Providing Kohli's game continues to flourish and the runs flow, his natural leadership skills could one day see him take over as captain of the side.
Similarly to Kohli, Rohit Sharma has seemingly been around for ages and has played more than 100 ODI games for his country.
But it's only in the last year that the 26-year-old has really come to the fore. Buoyed by a promotion to the top of the order in white-ball cricket, Sharma has forced his way into the Test side and delivered two centuries in his first two innings.
With shots all round the wicket and effortless elegant timing belying his power, Sharma is one of the most asthetically pleasing batsman to watch in world cricket.
Despite the undoubted natural talent, the Mumbai man's early career was blighted by poor concentration, resulting in him getting out for an abundance of low scores. His move to opening in one-day cricket seemed to help him address these issues, but can he sustain it for prolonged periods against high-quality Test attacks?
After the sensational start to his Test career against the West Indies, Sharma has the ability to become the latest in a long line of Indian batting legends.
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