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Can Gambhir make his third chance count?



Gautam_Gambhir_India_cricket.jpgEmbarrassed by the English

Gautam Gambhir does not care too much for the English. If you discount his back-to-back scores of 179 and 97 in a rain-affected draw at Mohali in 2008, Gambhir averages a mere 25.72 in 18 innings against England.

The most ardent supporters of the ‘Double-G’ argue that he should not have been dropped in the first place. They point to key contributions he made during his 50-innings long century drought, including consecutive half-centuries scored at home against the English, in the final series before his axing.

But Gambhir was not a scapegoat at all. The pitches in that series were far flatter than those we’ve seen in the India-NZ Tests. Four of England’s top five combined to score six centuries in the series and India’s bowlers, including a not so flashy Ashwin, could not prevent an embarrassing 2-1 series defeat at home.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for fans of a former Wisden Cricketer of the Year but it was plain for all to see; the Gambhir that supported Sehwag to perfection, the Gambhir who averaged 56 at his peak, the Gambhir that could have been the next Indian batting legend, was now mediocre at best. Sehwag, his one-of-a-kind partner in crime, got older along with the rest of India’s heavyweights. They were well past their prime. Gambhir was well past his prime.

A comeback in 2014 against the same opposition yielded an appalling and well-advertised 25 runs in 4 innings. All the times he poked and prodded, and played around his pad, made it painfully obvious that he was not good enough for international cricket.  

Game over. Go. Gambhir. Gone…

A new stance, a new beginning

Not so fast, Buster! Gambhir is back and he’s pulled a rabbit out of his hat! Instead of standing at the crease like he’s done throughout his career, he has opened up his stance so his toes point towards the cover region. This gives him the freedom to swing through the leg-side, which allowed him to hook consecutive sixes of a deflated Matt Henry in the first innings of the final NZ Test.

We saw it work to great effect in the IPL as he combined with Uthappa to give opening bowlers many sleepless nights. However, it was his performance in the Duleep Trophy that forced the selectors to give him a shot. As India’s apparent next generation struggled on sporting decks, under lights, and against the unknown quantity of the pink ball, it became obvious that Gambhir was a cut above the rest.

His fluent second-innings fifty against New Zealand, interrupted only by a shoulder scare, was crucial as it let Pujara settle in before charging to a century. He only lost his wicket because he tried to unselfishly up the teams’ scoring rate. Until then, however, he was enterprising as always against spin; one thing we’re all glad has not changed.

So that’s it? Once upon a time there was a man that we thought would do special things. He went into a slow free fall. But then he got one final chance and turned it around. And then they all lifted him onto their shoulders and paraded their hero through the city.   

Not the English! Not again!

I wish it were that easy but the English - Gambhir’s official party poopers and the villains of this story - will not make things simple at all.

Assuming the Indian selectors have gotten over their Shikhar Dhawan obsession, Gambhir should be next in line in case any of the top three gets injured; a strong possibility in a 5-match Test series.

It has now been 52 Test innings without a hundred for Gambhir. 29 and 50 were good scores on his return, but they don’t make for much of a fairytale. In fact, much like the 2012 series loss, Gambhir’s inability to convert his fifties to three figures could cost India dearly as the opposing top-order piles on the runs. Don’t, for a minute, put it past Cook and Root to come up with big hundreds.

As cruel as it sounds, the 35 year-old Gambhir must score a massive hundred to be thought of as more than just a back-up opener. He must score at least one century against England. The problem is that he seems to have forgotten how.

What works in his favor is a blend of his new stance and his good old mastery of spin. But you’re batting in the top three, Gautam. Stop teasing us with ‘key contributions’ and get a big one.

Supporting Sehwag was great, but Viru has retired and sanity has prevailed. You’re now the protagonist, Gautam. This is your story, your last chance, and it could be your fairytale finish. 


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Jay Dansinghani is a freelance writer, researcher, and author based in Hong Kong. Jay got into deep...

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