Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Glorious Gautam

Since last summer, Gautam Gambhir, the diminutive left-hander, has been steadily etching a place for himself and after his centuries against New Zealand, it will be difficult to overlook him whenever the topic centres around the Indian batting line-up.

The Indian batting line-up has been something to boast of more often than not and it is the Tendulkars, Dravids and Laxmans who are spoken about whenever the team needs to conjure up something special to wriggle out of a tight situation. While there is no doubt that their past achievements and enormous abilities are there for everyone to see, one sometimes tends to overlook the other players and it takes some extraordinary performances from the latter to come out of the sh adows of the seniors.

Since last summer, Gautam Gambhir, the diminutive left- hander, has been steadily etching a place for himself and after his centuries against New Zealand, it will be difficult to overlook him whenever the topic centres around the Indian batting line-up.

I first saw Gambhir in Indore when the NCA, in its early days, fielded a side against the visiting Zimbabweans. Even though Gambhir did not get a big score, it was obvious that he was different. The remarkable features of Gambhir’s knock in that game were his confidence and the verve to play his shots. I remarked to one of the selectors then that this little fellow needs to be followed closely, but, unfortunately, my observation was not taken with seriousness.

Within a year after that game, Gambhir created a big problem for the selection committee by amassing runs in the domestic circuit. But circumstances did not allow the selectors to draft him in. It was a blessing in disguise for the young man as he continued his apprenticeship in the domestic circuit in the next few years which enabled him to gain invaluable experience. The natural stroke-maker that Gambhir is, he took to the shorter version of the game like a duck to water and quite naturally he became an integral part of the team. However, he flattered to deceive in the Tests and there were serious doubts if he would fit into the scheme of things there. He was not a disastrous failure by any means, but he somehow kept getting out after making good starts.

It was common knowledge that a batsman in his mould would crack the code once he got to a three-figure mark. Then, of course, when a guy gets into the side and is trying to make a mark, the system does not give a long rope. Thus Gambhir was in and out of the team. The tour of Sri Lanka was a make or break tour for him and the youngster crossed that hurdle without too many hassles.

The coming of age happened against Australia last winter at home, when he notched up a double hundred and just when he was securing his place, he got involved in an altercation which cost him a Test. That was a setback in the sense that the confidence that a double century provides was not put to use.

However, his consistency has been remarkable and his growth in stature is critical for Indian cricket because Team India needs the likes of Gambhir and Yuvraj to become seasoned pros in Test cricket as the retirements of senior batsmen are not too far away. Besides, a left-hander at the top of the order is of immense value. The right-arm bowlers are generally not too comfortable bowling at left-handers and especially when the opening pair happens to be a left-right combination and as aggressive as Gambhir and Sehwag.

Gambhir has obviously worked on a few chinks in his batting and has grown as a batsman in the Test arena. As an opener, he will have the burden of easing the pressure on the middle-order batsmen by taking the shine off the new ball. But he along with Sehwag do more than just take the shine off. Gambhir does not seem as explosive as Sehwag is, but he gets his runs in quick time as well.

Despite his consistency in the last year or so, there were still some hushed whispers that he was a one-dimensional batsman. He does not get the latitude that Sehwag gets to indulge himself and probably realising this fact, Gambhir walked out in Napier to prove a point to himself and his detractors. His marathon innings might have probably been boring for the undiscerning, but in grinding the Kiwi attack under pressure, Gambhir ensured that India did not suffer any setback in its quest to create history. The importance of his century in Napier lies in the fact that it showed his resoluteness to become a well-rounded batsman.

He has gone through the first round of Test cricket with outstanding success and hopefully he will continue to amass runs in the years to come as well. In a way, being in the shadow of the other acclaimed batsmen in the side has helped Gambhir to slowly but steadily establish his own identity. Now that he has done that, he should constantly raise the bar with every passing series in order to live up to higher expectations.

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