With Rahul Dravid gone, no fancy options for India at No 3

Rahul Dravid's retirement leaves a big hole at the No 3 spot for India, and there are no clear solutions among the ranks.

The retirement of Rahul Dravid leaves India with a hole at the No 3 spot that will not be easy to fill.
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To understand the importance of the No 3, you only have to look at the five names chosen as Wisden's Cricketers of the Century in 2000.

Two of them, Sir Donald Bradman and Sir Vivian Richards, did their best work at that position.

Since then, two others have added their names to the one-drop pantheon.

Rahul Dravid finished his distinguished career with 10,524 runs at No 3, while Ricky Ponting made 9,904 runs there before being moved down the order.

Like the classical libero in football, the role of the No 3 involves both repelling the opposition and launching counter-attacks.

There is no more pivotal position in the line-up. A great No 3 takes full toll of the older, softer ball, but must also be mentally attuned to deal with the new one.

Some, like Richards and Bradman, made their mark through domination. Others, like Dravid, played on the opposition's patience and eventually wore them down.

With Dravid now having moved aside, India face a dilemma before the start of the next home season.

VVS Laxman played his most famous innings - the 281 at Eden Gardens in 2001 - from No 3, but it would be a big surprise if he made it even as far as the home series against England at the end of the year.

The one redeeming feature of India's disastrous tour of Australia was the batting of Virat Kohli.

With Dravid gone, he will surely bat higher. Having scored centuries for Delhi at No 3, his name will certainly be part of any discussion, but the feeling you get is that he is the long-term replacement for Sachin Tendulkar at No 4.

Cheteshwar Pujara, who made his debut nearly a year before Kohli, would have been next in line but for his misfortune with injuries.

Pujara also had a relatively poor tour of South Africa in 2010/11, struggling to cope with Dale Steyn at full throttle. Cheteshwar Pujara has 14 centuries from 61 first-class games, and the fluency with which he batted on his debut against Australia means that his chance will surely come during the home season.

As impressive as Pujara's first-class numbers are, they pale next to those of Ajinkya Rahane. After 50 games, he has 18 centuries and an astonishing average of 68.47. He showed glimpses of real quality during the one-day series in England last year, and has been on the fringes of the Test squad recently.

Murali Vijay was at the front of the queue three years ago, but mediocre numbers over 12 Tests mean that he must now wait his turn while the young ones get their opportunity.

Abhinav Mukund, his Tamil Nadu teammate, may not have convinced on the tour of England, but he, too, has impressive domestic credentials.

The rank outsider is the most experienced of the lot.

Subramaniam Badrinath averages more than 60 after a 104-game career, but did little of note in the few chances that he got at international level. Now 31 and after one of the poorest Ranji Trophy seasons of his career, he must fight the feeling that the boat has already left the harbour.

With India not touring England, Australia or South Africa for the next two years, whoever is chosen to succeed Dravid will have the luxury of settling into the position in familiar home conditions.

Dravid scored 21 of his 36 centuries overseas, scoring at least one in each Test-playing nation.

More importantly, his name will forever be associated with most of India's celebrated away victories.

Whoever fills the void will have to ignore the inevitable comparisons and chart his own path. For the moment, Kohli looks the best equipped.