One of the unwitting trends that I’m a big fan of in Indian cricket is our desire to have good-looking (as in elegant) batsmen hog the top and middle order. It is a tradition now and though you might want to apologise to Pravin Amre at some point, it is in some ways a beauty pageant which doesn’t bother too much about the “inner beauty” part.
Start from the obvious. Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman not only scored runs but they’d also present an artistic exhibition. The added dimension. If ever Ganguly fell in the eyes of some BCCI big-shot, they’d try their darnedest to replace him with nobody else but Yuvraj Singh. Go back a little further and there were Manjrekar and Azhar. There was Kambli for a while, who’s career is still mourned even though it was the far “uglier” Amre who scored a debut hundred in South Africa. In fact, I was trying to think of the last reasonably successful batsman who you’d want on the teamsheet but not on the tv, and I could only think of Sidhu. He however came with a special dispensation given that he’d dance down at the sight of an off-spinner.
Things have changed a bit these days. Murali Vijay has not only emerged as a rare batsman who upgraded his Tamil Nadu greatness to apprenticeship at the next level, he has now to compete with Gautam Gambhir, a Test Player of the Year winner and a mascot for the other side of the elegance fence. Yuvraj is constantly struggling in Tests and Wriddhiman Saha jumped the queue ahead of Rohit Sharma who hasn’t played one yet. Of the three proper batsmen who’ve debuted since Gambhir, only Vijay is of the “conventionally good-looking” type.
How are the other countries doing? Australia never bothered on that front. Michael Clarke is fine but he’s no Martyn or Mark Waugh and their openers in Katich and Watson are amongst the worst. If at all the two would let up and be replaced, it would be by Phil Hughes and Chris Rogers, forgodsakes! England had in Michael Vaughan one of the great 21st century watchables, a player with such grace that he took Thorpe’s mantel quite easily. Now you have Pietersen in his place. Not bad either.
New Zealand: No Martin Crowe yet, but Ross Taylor is brilliant to watch and he gets bonus points for being a non-resident Bangalorean. Martin Guptill seems to be ok too and to some extent so does Jesse Ryder. West Indies hardly play Ramnaresh Sarwan and Sri Lanka will do well to stick to Jayawardene for a few more years. Herschelle Gibbs carried the responsibility of an entire nation for too long before AB de Villiers eased his burden a bit. Pakistan are notorious for hard-to-watch batsmen and they keep their form with most except the Akmal brothers.
If there was a match between the Ugly Ducklings and the Swans today, it could be with these:
1. Shane Watson
2. Graeme Smith
3. Younis Khan
4. Jacques Kallis
5. Shiv Chanderpaul
6. Michael Hussey
7. M.S. Dhoni
8. Mohammad Aamer
9. Paul Harris
10. Doug Bollinger
11. Chris Martin
Subs: Gambhir, Ashwell Prince, Mohammad Hafeez
7. K Akmal
8. Mohammad Asif
9. Shane Bond
10. Dale Steyn
11. Murali Karthik
Subs: KP, Clarke, James Anderson