From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.01 :: Jan. 03, 2009

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COVER STORY

He has evolved as a batsman

The turnaround in Gautam Gambhir’s career has been astonishing. The Gambhir of today is a solid and reliable southpaw who is unlikely to miss out on a scoring opportunity. He is a match-winner and is bound for greater glory, writes S. Dinakar.

K .R. DEEPAK

Gautam Gambhir

Gautam Gambhir has added steel to a stunning array of strokes. The natural has tightened his game without losing flair. And the runs are flowing. The left-hander’s ability was never in question. But then his temperament was under scrutiny. Gambhir, then, was not putting a price on his wicket.

Pacemen would snare him in the corridor. Gambhir would hang his bat out loosely, play away from his body. He was letting himself down. The odd brilliant innings would be followed by a string of failures.

It was the same story each time. He would flash a few drives through the off-side, whip a few on the leg-side before throwing it all away in a moment of carelessness. The wicketkeeper and the slip cordon would wait in anticipation of an edge. More often than not, Gambhir would oblige.

The subsequent turnaround in Gambhir’s career has been astonishing. The Gambhir of today is a solid and reliable southpaw who is unlikely to miss out on a scoring opportunity. Technically, he has evolved. Mentally, he now believes he belongs to the Indian team. The confidence from that sense of belonging is translating into runs.

Gambhir does not have to look far for inspiration. His opening partner is his idol and mentor. Virender Sehwag has been hugely influential in Gambhir’s career.

Gambhir’s opening partnership with Sehwag will be central to India’s plans in making a bid for the No. 1 slot in all forms of the game. Presently, the pair from Delhi is the most feared duo at the top of the order in world cricket. This is a right-left combination of rare stroke-playing ability. The chemistry between the two is reflected in their running between the wickets. Sehwag and Gambhir share mutual admiration, enjoy each other’s game. Together, they pack a punch.

India’s victory over Australia in Mohali and the incredible, successful run-chase of 387 against England at Chepauk were built around strong opening partnerships. Australian captain Ricky Ponting acknowledged that India was winning the crucial first session of the Test matches through its opening pair. Sehwag and Gambhir provide India the momentum and the mental edge.

To his credit, Gambhir has not been overshadowed by Sehwag’s brilliance at the other end. He has carved his own identity. India’s most improved batsman crossed the 1000-run mark in both Tests and ODIs in 2008. Gambhir does switch gears rather effortlessly.

In conditions offering movement to the pacemen, his efforts of 179 and 97 against England in Mohali showcased his innings-building skills. He concentrated hard, left deliveries outside his off-stump and was judicious in his stroke-selection.

Batting under a dense cloud cover on a surface with a greenish tinge and against an attack led by an exceptional paceman, Andrew Flintoff, was bound to be demanding. Gambhir passed the test.

The technical purity of Rahul Dravid at the other end would have compelled Gambhir to follow the right methods. He countered movement with decisive front-footed play. The left-hander watched the ball closely around his off-stump before deciding whether to play it or leave it. This was a very different Gambhir on view. When Flintoff pitched short, Gambhir swayed away from the line of the lifting deliveries.

Importantly, he was playing straighter than squarer. Gambhir is more balanced in his stance these days; consequently his body weight is better distributed. Of course, he can put away the loose deliveries or create the scoring opportunities. Gambhir is strong with his back-footed punches, the cut and the pull shots. If the delivery is lacking in length, the bowler is in serious trouble.

Of course, he can also alter the length by stepping down the track. Gambhir is light on his feet and can pick his scoring area quickly. His walk-down-the-track method is a calculated gamble to disrupt the length of the paceman. A batsman requires confidence to pull off such tactics and Gambhir is not short on this attribute.

This has been a season of triumphs for Gambhir. His strokeful 104 in the second innings took the match further away from Australia in the Mohali Test. The southpaw’s 206 against Ricky Ponting’s men in New Delhi underlined his growing stature. His 66 in the second innings of the Chennai Test against England was an invaluable effort in a historic run chase.

Gambhir requires to put a lid on his temper though. His face-off with Shane Watson during his monumental innings at the Feroze Shah Kotla resulted in match referee Chris Broad handing him a one-Test ban. Earlier, Gambhir was involved in an on-field skirmish with Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi.

While Gambhir’s technique against the pacemen has improved vastly, he remains an exceptional player of spin. He reads from the bowler’s hand, uses his feet and the depth of the crease. He can drive between long-on and long-off, essay the lofted blows, use the cut and the sweep. Not too many batsmen have played off-spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan as well as Gambhir has done. The manner in which he executes the inside-out strokes over covers indicates the swiftness of his feet as he creates room on the off-side.

A Test career that began with a couple of failures against Glenn McGrath & Co. four years ago is back on track. Interestingly, Gambhir managed to turn his Test fortunes around with fluent efforts in one-day cricket.

Gambhir’s 51, batting at No. 3, in Leeds in 2007 enabled him stay afloat; prior to this knock, he was sinking in international cricket. Then, his hundreds against Sri Lanka — at the Gabba — and Australia — in Sydney — in the ODI tri-series down under in 2008 made the selectors look at him for all forms of the game. Success in Australia, on pitches offering seam movement and bounce, instilled greater belief in Gambhir.

Gambhir’s record is impressive. He has 1826 runs in 22 Tests at 49.35. In the ODIs, he has notched up 2162 runs in 64 matches at 37.27. In Twenty20, he averages 37.37 in nine games.

Gambhir is a stroke-maker and a match-winner. He has also realised the value of defence and judgment. He is bound for greater glory.




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