There are no words
Since my last column, the cricketing world has been rocked by tragedy, with the death of Phillip Hughes shocking us all. There has already been a multitude of words spoken, and written, about this terrible loss, many of them far more eloquent than anything I might have to say.
I will simply say that, like every other lover of cricket and even many for whom it is an irrelevance, my thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Hughes family, those close to him and with Sean Abbott—and leave it at that.
I am, like all men and women, a flawed and fallen being and I blame that for my inability to refrain from saying "I told you so". In my last column, I mentioned that I thought that Steve Smith would be the right pick as Michael Clarke's successor, and it seems that the selectors agreed with me. More than that, we all had our faith repaid as Steve Smith came through a baptism of fire unsinged, but burning brightly.
Despite my misgivings early in his career, mainly due to his disconcertingly pure looking baby face, I had recently begun to revise my opinion of Smith. He is one of the few current Australian batsmen who seem to have the willingness, and the ability, to grind out an innings when T20 strokes aren't appropriate, such as on a seaming or swinging track.
We have plenty of flashy stroke players, but not too many willing to dig deep. Of course, Smith has plenty of attacking strokes, and when you add that to the fielding skills you expect from this generation of players and the ability to turn the ball, you have a not inconsequential asset.
On his first day in the boss' chair, he probably wondered what he had gotten himself into. Questions have needed to be asked for a long time as to why so many of Australia's fast bowlers break down so often, though many bowlers of a previous generation think is simple; they need less gym, and more actual bowling. Whatever it is, Smith may have wondered how he was going to get through a game without a good old-fashioned flogging.
But, with his own efforts with the bat a not insignificant part of their salvation, Australia fought back to deny India a win—despite their best attempts to give India a real chance on the last day. As well as looking like he had a strategy, Smith seems to possess what Richie Benaud considered a large part of making a successful captain—the ability to maintain outward composure when all around you is descending in to chaos, and to look like all is, in fact, going to plan.
I think Australia will be in good hands when Clarke's back can no long be patched up, though I hope that is not for a little while yet. My congratulations to the selectors for going with the daring option.
Here comes the heir
I make no secret of my admiration for the Little Master, Sachin Tendulkar—I even named my pet bird after him. As his career reached its afternoon and evening, one of the most pressing questions in Indian cricket became, "who could replace the irreplaceable"? It seemed that the next Tendulkar was being unearthed every few months, only to fall by the wayside. It was similar to Australia's "next Bradman", or more recently, "the next Warnie", not just in its regularity but in its aspect of being a poisoned chalice, a weight that crushed many a young player under its burden of expectation.
As so often the case, many a young Indian cricketer who scored innumerable runs in domestic cricket, or friendly, flat tracks was soon undone by a trip to places like South Africa or Australia where they would face fast, aggressive bowling on pitches with a bit of bounce and movement. Tendulkar's record says that he could score runs anywhere, against anyone - notable examples including a century in Perth on his first trip there, and one of the most incredible innings you can imagine against a rampant Dale Steyn in South Africa. His heir would have possess the same ability to cope with hostile conditions, rather than saving their runs for home.
Of the current team, Rohit Sharma was once considered the most likely to take up the mantle, with his elegant technique and his domestic immensity. There is no doubting his ability, you don't score double tonnes in ODIs (twice!) without it, but I am yet to be convinced that he possess that ability to bend games to his will and transcend conditions that Tendulkar did. Instead, I believe that the true heir of the Little Master is Virat Kohli.
Undoubtedly they appear completely different cricketers, and men, on the surface. Where Tendulkar was quiet and selfless, Kohli is brash and in your face. Where Tendulkar seemed to retreat into his own zone and was rarely perturbed by what was going on around him, Kohli seems to thrive on confrontation, even relish it. If you want to buy into popular conceptions, Tendulkar represented the old India, while Kohli represents the new India.
But, both men share the same ability to score runs on any surface, and under immense pressure. The both have the ability to adapt to any form of the game, the foundation of excellent technique giving them the ability to improvise shots seemingly at will. And, most importantly, they both play their best against quality opposition.
If Kohli seems more daring than Tendulkar, it is not only because that is the type of cricket that is played these days, but because Tendulkar spent most of his career carrying India on his shoulders—both the team and the nation—and one can only imagine how heavy a load that must have been (It was deeply moving when Kohli referenced this in the aftermath of the World Cup victory). Kohli has come to maturity in a team that doesn't see victory as an elusive goal, but as an expectation, and it shows in his cricket.
Of course, Kohli had a long way to go before he matches Tendulkar both statistically and in the very highest annals of the game. But, if he plays even half as long as the Little Master did, Indian cricket will be well served indeed, and I have no doubt he will make his mark on the record books. He's the real deal, not simply another flash in the pan who will soon fade away, and is the natural heir to Tendulkar.
Between Smith and Kohli we are seeing the future of two teams, and hopefully this is just the beginning of two great careers.
David Goodwin is the Deputy Editor of The Salvation Army's magazine, On Fire. He is a cricket tragic, running a cricket club and a cricket association, while attempting to hit sixes and bowl legspin as often as possible
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html