From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.35 :: NO.09 :: Mar. 01, 2012

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CRICKET / FOCUS/GAUTAM GAMBHIR

He has class

In the limited overs format, Gautam Gambhir remains a great barrier for the opposition... in all conditions. By S. Dinakar.

Gautam Gambhir is back among the runs. He is timing the ball from the middle of the willow. And the sphere is finding the gaps. The value of this 30-year-old left-hander to the Indian team cannot be understated. He brings solidity to the top-order, and, in the ODI arena, can hold the innings together till the final stages of the innings.

Gambhir's innings of 92 and 91 in the back-to-back matches against Australia and Sri Lanka in Adelaide were of quality. The opener had a tough time in the Test series preceding the ODI triangular series. Gambhir was troubled by lifting deliveries — he was being squared up by the bouncing ball — and this adversely impacted his footwork.

Consequently, Gambhir, his footwork not in harmony, started playing away from his body. He became increasingly vulnerable to deliveries that left him in the corridor.

The last few months have, indeed, not been easy for Gambhir outside the sub-continent. Troubled by swing, he had an ordinary Test series in England. The southpaw averaged just 17, scoring 102 runs from three matches. Things did not really improve down under where Gambhir's four Tests fetched him 181 runs at 22.62.

In the ODI series, Gambhir gave Starc the charge in Adelaide and thumped the paceman over covers.

One of the major reasons for India's rise to the No. 1 spot in Test cricket was the starts given by the right-left combination of Virender Sehwag and Gambhir. Sehwag would cut loose from one end while Gambhir's ability to hold firm even while gathering runs briskly from the other saw the pair develop into a formidable force.

The strong associations between Sehwag and Gambhir also made batting a lot easier for the men following them. The threat from the new ball would have been negated and the attack would have lost some of its bite. The lack of partnerships between Sehwag and Gambhir hurt India. The pace bowlers could now make early inroads into the line-up.

Under the circumstances, Gambhir finding form in the ODIs is good news for India. He takes up responsibility, can wade into the attack with rapier-like strokes or rotate the strike and milk the bowling by either stroking in the ‘V' or employing his dexterous wrists. And his aggressive running between the wickets — he is fast, reads the field placings well and is quick on the turn — often hustles the opposition.

Gambhir's all-round record is laudable. Despite a slump in form, he has 3712 runs in 48 Tests at 45.26 with nine centuries. In the ODIs (before the India-Australia match in Brisbane last Sunday) he had 4588 runs in 127 games at 40.96. In twenty20 internationals, Gambhir has 697 runs in 25 games at 30.30 (strike-rate 121.42). And he has a sense of occasion. In the World Twenty20 final in South Africa (2007), Gambhir notched up a match-winning 75 against Pakistan. It was an attacking innings of cultured stroke-play. Even in the slam-bang twenty20 version of the game, Gambhir does not believe in slogging. The innings was as much about finesse as it was about the bigger blows.

Then in the ICC ODI World Cup final against Sri Lanka in Mumbai, Gambhir's stroke-filled 97 — it was an innings where he used the depth of the crease beautifully — during a stiff chase under the lights was among the key elements of an immortal Indian triumph. Gambhir uses his feet particularly well against the spinners and his century at the Gabba against Sri Lanka in the triangular ODI series of 2008 was a gem. He picked the nature of the ball from the hand and adjusted his footwork to innovate and create. After the game, off-spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan conceded that Gambhir batted exceptionally well.

The left-hander from Delhi is also a straight-talking person; he has his own views and does not hesitate from airing them. Talking to the media after his recent 92 against Australia in Adelaide, Gambhir felt India should have finished the match sooner than in the final over and added Dhoni, perhaps was waiting for someone else to take responsibility.

Dhoni had taken India to a fine win at the death that night but Gambhir indicated with his words that the Indian skipper took too much time in the middle before launching into the big blows and the asking rate, resultantly, went up.

India had rested Sachin Tendulkar for the game. Asked whether this was the best Indian eleven, Gambhir replied any eleven that had the belief to defeat Australia in its home was the best eleven. There was no malice in Gambhir's words. He only meant the team was bigger than individuals.

The resting of one of the top three senior Indian top-order batsmen in the ODI triangular series — only two of them played in a game — has become a subject of debate but Gambhir saw nothing wrong in a youngster such as Rohit Sharma receiving opportunities.

Gambhir is a good student of the game. In the opportunities he had received to captain India, the left-hander has done a fair job. And he has some pretty strong takes on the game.

In Test match cricket on the bouncy tracks of Australia or in the swinging, seaming conditions in England, Gambhir, though, has to walk the talk.

In the limited overs format, Gambhir remains a great barrier for the opposition... in all conditions.



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