The bold new force of India

Fast tracking youngsters to international cricket can be a risky business, but if the right cricketers are picked, the exercise can be rewarding. The young guns boomed down under, writes S. Dinakar.

As Rohit Sharma eased into a straight drive off Nathan Bracken at the SCG, there were mild shouts of exclamation from a couple of Aussie journalists sitting nearby. The Aussies are hard to please, but then Rohit is hard to ignore. He is an easy rider galloping on his skills. He has soft hands and a sense of timing.

The youngster’s smooth-stroking 66 in the first final was timed to perfection. India finally broke the SCG ODI jinx against the Aussies. This was a famous win.

Rohit had been picked on potential. He had sparkled in the World Twenty20 Championship and soothed the senses in the Jaipur ODI against Pakistan. Apart from these efforts, the talented Mumbai batsman had little else to show.

For the discerning, Rohit has always been special. Each time former India coach Greg Chappell was asked about promising young Indian batsmen on the fringe, Rohit would be the first name to roll off his tongue. The Aussie legend was impressed with Rohit’s footwork and balance.

Rohit executes his on-drives with poise. He also has a clear idea of the ground and the field positions; he finds the gaps.

Much of the credit for the success of the young Indian players down under should go to the chairman of the selection panel Dilip Vengsarkar. He does have an eye for talent. He saw Ishant Sharma for a few hours in a first-class game and that was enough to convince him that here was a man for the future. “He bowls a great line and gets bounce,” Vengsarkar said during the tour of South Africa last season. Soon, Ishant was in the side.

Fast tracking youngsters to international cricket can be a risky business, but if the right cricketers are picked, the exercise can be rewarding. The young guns boomed down under.

The selection of Rohit has enhanced the batting line-up. Apart from his shot-making ability, he has displayed composure in crisis situations. “He was very cool out there. He has a bright future,” said Sachin Tendulkar. The maestro saw Rohit batting from close quarters during their match-winning partnership at the SCG. Rohit’s temperament and stroke-play impressed Tendulkar.

The young batsman’s wrist work is of the true sub-continental variety. He is relaxed in his stance and organised in stroke-play. He also uses the crease well and there were strokes on either side at the SCG. Rohit was resilient in a big game. When confronted by a short-pitched lifter, he swayed away from the line with his eyes on the ball. When Brett Lee unleashed a scorching yorker, he dug it out.

Tendulkar held firm and rotated the strike while Rohit went for his strokes. The symphony was perfect at a venue not far away from the Opera house.

For the youngsters in the Indian team, Tendulkar has been a father figure. “I do give them advice from time to time. It is up to them to take it or leave it,” he said. The great cricketer also revealed that it was not one-way traffic with the youngsters. “They also come up with some good suggestions. The atmosphere in the dressing room has been lively.”

The youngsters in the side cannot aspire for a better role model. Tendulkar’s work ethics and his dedication to the game have rubbed off on the younger men. Someone like Rohit has learnt the value of building an innings from the master. He is not a finished product yet. A certain looseness outside the off-stump — these stroke-makers often walk a thin line — saw Rohit go off the boil after a promising start in the CB tri-series. At the SCG, he tightened his game without compromising on flair.

The youngsters made a statement in the CB tri-series. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni boldly threw them in the fray. Swing bowler Praveen Kumar too responded to the challenge. He made the new ball count and bowled well at the death with a fuller length, movement and change of pace. Crucially, he made the batsmen play.

Even slightly more experienced cricketers such as Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa are still relatively young. In the transitional phase, they have also pulled their weight. These men are fearless, not worried about reputations. These young cricketers are a bold new force — out of India.