From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.33 :: NO.01 :: Jan. 07, 2010

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COVER STORY

Growing in stature

Gautam Gambhir has had a wonderful 2009. In fact, he has had a wonderful career thus far. His runs have come when they mattered, against opposition that stood out in world cricket and in conditions that held huge challenges, writes Vijay Lokapally.

AP

I take things step by step. I never set long term goals. You can’t. It always pays to be realistic and it helps immensely if you look at things in a balanced manner. It is always good to know your limitations. — Gautam Gambhir

He firmly believes that his job is to consume the opposition. Bury it under a flurry of attacking shots that are sometimes predetermined, but most often crafted with the authority of a champion. The hallmark of Gautam Gambhir’s batting is that he does not compromise with the situation. And he has excelled in all forms of the game, showing a penchant for playing big innings.

Gambhir has had a wonderful 2009. In fact, he has had a wonderful career thus far. His runs have come when they mattered, against opposition that stood out in world cricket and in conditions that held huge challenges. He has tamed the best of bowlers in the business. “I love it when I hit the best,” he says matter-of-factly.

So, one of the finest batsmen in world cricket has now set his eyes on achieving more in a season that will be a run-up to the 2011 World Cup. “I take things step by step. I never set long term goals. You can’t. It always pays to be realistic and it helps immensely if you look at things in a balanced manner. It is always good to know your limitations,” is his honest self-analysis.

It is yet to sink in — the fact that he is the top Test batsman in world cricket. He does not believe that it is a true reflection of his potential. There are bigger deeds to be performed and that is a big motivation for this exciting left-hander to chase his childhood dream. He wants to establish himself as one of the most consistent batsmen ever in terms of match-winning performances.

For Gambhir, each visit to the middle is like a debut innings. He keeps reminding himself of the hard work he had to put in to attain the level of maturity and consistency he has at the international level. His stature as a positive cricketer has really grown. To slam the bowlers at will is a rare quality that Gambhir has developed right from the time he belted attacks in inter-school contests.

The bat, for this affable cricketer, is a tool to make his statement, show his ability to dominate. “I love to dominate. I actually aim to dominate from the first ball. There is no greater feeling than putting the bowler under pressure. You then get the time and space to explore,” Gambhir says of his batting philosophy.

His petulance on the pitch and run-ins with the opposition do not portray the real Gambhir. It is just his way of taking on the opposition if they provoke him. Remember a livid Gambhir confronting Shahid Afridi in a one-day match? He gave the Pakistan all-rounder a piece of his mind. “I don’t know what snapped within,” says Gambhir, who would not take things lying down. But for sure, Afridi learnt a lesson the hard way that day.

When Gambhir is in the middle you can’t leave your seat. Just as you can’t miss even a single delivery when his mentor, Virender Sehwag, is on strike. Left to Gambhir, he would love to emulate every knock of Sehwag’s, even if it is a one-ball innings of four. “I have the best seat in the stadium many times,” Gambhir says of his experience of watching Sehwag decimate the bowlers from the other end.

At the beginning of 2009, Gambhir had taken a resolution — learn from the past. It effectively meant he had to begin afresh as Sehwag kept reminding him of his resolution when padding up before each innings. The determination to succeed is uppermost in his mind.

AP

Formidable partners... Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag are one of the best opening pairs in the world.

Fighting spirit is a quality that had been ingrained in Gambhir right from the early days of his career. He had to fight his way through in the school team, the state team, the zonal team and then the National team. He does not forget to look at the India cap he wore for the first time in Mumbai (versus Australia in the fourth Test in 2004). He made a modest Test debut, scoring just 3 and 1. The failure though taught him the importance of valuing his wicket.

In sensational form in 2009, Gambhir got to play only five Tests — nine innings to be precise. But he scored four centuries and a half century — two hundreds in New Zealand and two against Sri Lanka at home. He played some amazing shots which evoked spontaneous appreciation from Sehwag. For Gambhir, nothing is more important than a word of praise from Sehwag.

His good form continued in the one-dayers and T20 internationals too. Gambhir quickly adapted to the demands of the shorter versions of the game. But it did not mean throwing caution to the winds. As Sunil Gavaskar often mentioned while commentating, Gambhir plays “cricketing shots” even in the shortest version of the game. He has learnt from Sehwag that the ball is meant to be hit. And he does that with admirable finesse, match after match.

As is the case with Sehwag, Gambhir’s statistics do not really convey the range of his strokeplay. There is not a shot that he can’t play, but the quality of his batting lies in his judicious selection of strokes. “I had learnt early in my career the importance of leaving the ball, and that has taught me shot selection,” says the 28-year-old opener.


An entertainer to the core, Gambhir looks forward to serving the Indian team for a long time. He reads the game superbly and his leadership qualities are well known in the Delhi dressing room. He has often assumed responsibilities and delivered with a lot of punch. The Ranji Trophy title that Delhi won in 2008 was largely due to Gambhir’s awesome batting in the semifinal and final.

A modest Gambhir looks to back himself as a batsman for a long tenure in the Indian team. “I have faith in myself,” he stresses. Indian cricket too shares his belief.

* * *

GAMBHIR TRIVIA

■ He is the second quickest among Indians, after Sunil Gavaskar, to complete 2,000 runs in Test cricket. He took 24 Tests to reach the mark, while Gavaskar did so in 23 Tests.

■ Is only the third Indian left-hander to aggregate 2,000 runs in Tests after Ajit Wadekar and Sourav Ganguly.

■ Is only the second Indian left-hander to aggregate 2,000 runs in both Tests and ODIs after Sourav Ganguly.

■ Is the only Indian batsman to aggregate more than 300 runs in four consecutive Test series.

■ Has scored four centuries in his last four Tests — 137 v New Zealand in Napier (second innings), 167 v New Zealand in Wellington (second innings), 114 v Sri Lanka in Ahmedabad (second innings) and 167 v Sri Lanka in Kanpur (only innings).

■ Is only the third Indian batsman after Sunil Gavaskar and Rahul Dravid to score centuries in four consecutive Tests.

■ His innings of 137 v New Zealand in Napier in 2009 lasted 643 minutes, which makes it the second longest innings by an Indian (in terms of minutes) outside the sub-continent (longest: 201 in 673 minutes by Navjot Singh Sidhu in Port of Spain, March 1997).

■ Is one of the nine Indians to have reached a Test century with a six (v Australia, New Delhi, 2008-09) — he moved from 99 to 105 with a six off Shane Watson.

■ Forms a very successful opening combination with Virender Sehwag. The two together have aggregated 2,504 runs in 43 innings in Test cricket (only the Gavaskar-Chauhan pair has aggregated more for India).

■ Is one of the three Indian batsmen to make a score of 150 or more on two occasions in ODIs. Others are: Sachin Tendulkar (4) and Sourav Ganguly (2).

■ Is the leading run-scorer for India in Twenty20 internationals — 552 runs in 19 matches.

Rajneesh Gupta



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