Shreyas Iyer. Sanju Samson. Rishabh Pant. Karun Nair. Sarfraz Khan. And the latest addition to the mix, chota packet promising to be the next big dhamaka - Prithvi Shaw.
All of these guys seem to have that 'it' factor when it comes to their batting. That certain something that jumps out when you watch them bat - plenty of timing, a plethora of strokes, and a willingness to take the attack to the bowlers. But take a bit of a closer look, and you can start to see telltale signs of inconsistency - a tendency to "live hard or die trying". Given the way the economic and 'popularity' incentives are stacked in favor of "modern" bats who are capable of exciting stroke-play, its not hard to see why the teenyboppers of Indian batting are all out to emulate the ABDVs and Rohit Sharmas of the world, as opposed to the Gavaskars and dare I say, even the great Sachin Tendulkar.
Gone are the days where the domestic circuit prioritized, taught and honed the ability of a young batsman's ability to put a premium price on his wicket. These days, all you hear in terms of "cutting edge conventional wisdom" is the tiresome cliche of "expressing yourself" and "playing your natural game". So widespread is the epidemic in India's young ranks,, that even the normally reticent Rahul Dravid felt compelled to publicly call out some of his wards. An annoyed Dravid was quoted as dismissing all this emphasis on "natural game" as "frustrating". Dravid chose to make his point with an unusually strong choice of words.
This concept of 'play your natural game', which I hear all the time, frustrates me because there's no such thing in my belief as 'natural game.'
"It's only about how you play different situations. Are you good enough to play when the score is 30 for 3, or 250 for 3? Are you good enough to bat when you go in first over or are you good enough to go in first ball after lunch? You have to learn to bat differently in different conditions, and if you can do that like Hardik is showing at the moment, those would be signs of a developing cricketer, someone who can make consistent contributions and not someone who is a one-off, who can produce brilliance once in a while. The aspiration and challenges set for a lot of India A players is to be all-weather players, all-situation players, all-condition players."
Strong words they might be, but I feel that it will be inevitably swamped by the tsunami of $$$$ that has flooded cricket since the inception of the IPL. After all, what will a young Indian cricketer aspire to be, considering the cricket circuit today - Why should he devote his energies to building his skills like say, a Murali Vijay, Che Pujara, or even an Ajinkya Rahane? When a test cricket 'failure' like Rohit Sharma is a multi-millionaire superstar IPL team captain, and gets to be a glory hogging ODI opener for the national team because of his ability to hit sixes?
To some extent, this evolution of incentives and the corresponding evolution in batting is not restricted to India alone. One look at the young batsmen coming through the ranks in England and Australia will show you a markedly 'same-ness' in the ranks. James Vince. Marcus Stoinis. Chris Lynn. Glenn Maxwell.
I wonder where the next Rahul Dravid will come from. Or if he will show up at all. Cricket will be poorer for it, if he doesn't.