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Is Gautam Gambhir's time up?

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For once, it seems like none of the fast bowlers who he toyed with or the spinners he battled are as overpowering as the clock hanging over him. And he has never been a mellow soldier. He wielded his willow with authority for over a decade, hurling to the fence attacks like Dale Steyn, Andre Nel, Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, Nuwan Kulasekara, Johan Botha and even Shane Warne.

It wasn't that the sight of him, the personification of steady reassurance stemming from confident body language, threatened the opposition. Nor was it that he used a merciless sledge-hammer to pummel world's best bowlers, against many of whom he scored prolifically.

It was just that no matter who you were – an Indian fan or a critic from Down Under – you instantly identified Gautam Gambhir as a toughie; a bloke who you wouldn't mow down easily.

He is just 35. For a cricketer in England, Australia or South Africa, it is a point that suggests you either perform or perish instantly. However in India, it can be a second wind that ushers a welcome return to the 22 yards. You nigh well begin again and discover yourself blooming in this mid-30s stage.

But for 'Gauti' who has scored close to 4200 Test runs, with a double century, 8 other hundreds and 22 fifties to his name, it seems that time may have come to a standstill, as far as his career as an Indian national cricketer is concerned.

The ax seems to have fallen on his career for good

In the wake of his elimination from the remainder of the England series, we might have seen the last of Gautam Gambhir. As for the ODI arena, there's no realistic chance of him finding himself in the playing eleven.

 

The problem isn't just one of competition. Rather, it is one of the overwhelmingly good talents available. The current Indian team is a potent mix of aggressive, firebrand and extremely talented cricketers who are flexing their muscles in all three formats of the game.

Perhaps the thought of finding his groove again in a set up that has moved on from the days of Sehwag, Laxman & Dravid to a cracker of a caravan steadied by Rahane, set ablaze by Kohli and triggered by Rohit and Vijay's efficacy was a bit overpowering. Or so I think.

Interestingly, Gauti's numbers in each format argue a strong case for him. A healthy Test average of 42 complements his 5200 ODI runs garnered at 38 (with 11 hundreds) to go with 7 fifties at a strike rate of 119 in T20s, putting forward a robust case for the Delhi batsman.

Moreover, he had the vital experience of over 100 Test innings before he was recalled. His recent playing style afforded him a realistic chance in Test Cricket. He was still battling it out, but despite some recent marvelous outings for Delhi he lacked the fluency to overcome all the expectations and inner demons.

Another unsung hero?

But performances aren't crafted on aggressive stance and daring alone. Gambhir had a memorable journey in a not so long career, marked with memorable feats. His best all time innings could be the 93 in the 2011 World Cup finals against Sri Lanka: an unsung epic that was unfortunately overshadowed by Dhoni's knock, which was undeniably important if not better than Gauti's heroics at the top order.

Aggression is to Gambhir what splits are to Jean Claude Van Damme. He has an archer’s poise and a hunger for good performances. Sadly, his return was short-lived, though marked by a ceremonious welcome, yielding just 98 runs from 4 innings.

What may have been his final innings earned him a duck at Rajkot. This casts a grim shadow of doubt on the abilities of an otherwise very capable batsman who, at his peak, crumbled potent bowling attacks and earned his famous 150 in 2009. Then, as a gritty 28 year old, he blasted the Sri Lankans at Eden Gardens and, with Kohli, helped India win an unlikely chase of 316.

Forging a remarkable pair with Viru

In the immediate aftermath of the famous duo of Sachin-Sourav that lofted India to all new ODI batting heights, along came Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, the dazzling duo from Delhi who put together an excess of 2000 runs in ODIs and 4412 in Tests from 2004 to 2012. Together with Sehwag's blitzkrieg approach to batting, regardless of format, Gambhir emerged as a relentless chaser of greatness.

But post-2012, things turned sour for him. Indian cricket increasingly embraced a younger pool of exceptional talent in the post Dravid, Laxman etc. era. The Sehwags were no longer picked and the Kohlis, Rohits, Dhawans and Rahanes were doing repeated rounds of blistering score cards with fine performances both home and abroad.

The occasionally reticent but emotionally volatile Gambhir had receded to domestic circuit and famously, the IPL. His defiant fireworks even helped lift the Kolkata Knight Riders to the IPL title in 2012. And his good run continued smoothly. But his weren't the feisty masterstrokes that would shake up the BCCI and make them take him seriously again.

And the one time that did happen, Gambhir had 4 innings to prove he had it in him to go big again.

It is sad and a bit dismal too, but that is sometimes the nature of things. Cricket and ‘old’ age are distant cousins who don't like to meet up often. A lack of form and high expectations are the imperfect couple who can never enjoy harmony.

In the end, we must applaud this fearless fighter for all his achievements and his honest contributions to Indian cricket. He may have wanted to fight more battles for India, but time & sport favour the young.  

 

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