The Ġam-bhir Question

Is Gautam answering the right questions

Gambhir’s lack of runs has been one of the biggest problems plaguing the Indian batting for a long time. Both over the nightmarish tour to England, and the first half of the test-leg here in Australia, their failures to cross the 300 run mark can be traced back to the openers fall from form. In England he caught one early on the elbow and if that wasn’t bad enough, he returned soon after to get clonked on the head. Add to that the scarcity of noteworthy scores and one doesn’t need a brain surgeon to figure out the past year hasn’t been one of Gautam’s best.

The problem with the left-handed opener, for good or for worse is not a mental one. His toughness and aptitude to play at the International level were never in question, and that for many young cricketers hitting the International arena is an enviable trait. Mental toughness does not come with correction or practice. It is not some thing you wake up in the morning and work on in the nets. It comes for some, Tendulkar being the biggest example, very naturally. For others less gifted, it is a case of spending time playing at the highest level getting used to the constant stress. How one copes with the latter varies from individual to individual, but if the World Cup Final knock was any indication, Gambhir seems to handle pressure quite well.

Where the opener stumbles in fact is his technical game. Looking desperately out of sorts on bouncy tracks, Gambhir is reduced to groping and fishing at balls slanting across at chest level. Bad habits from the limited over format creeping into his Test game don’t help either. The shimmy down the track dab to third man, his bread and butter shot in ODIs and T20s, is equivalent to signing the death sentence in the longer version of the game. In India where the ball rarely rises over waist height, the top-order bat can afford to keep playing his favorite shot, but in foreign conditions the same effort often results in regular catching practice for the slips and gully fieldsmen.

Duncan Fletcher the Indian coach, when asked about the opener’s problems emphasized on how he was “working on Gautam being more positive. He is too tentative at the crease at the moment and we are trying to get him into an aggressive mindset. Playing his natural game is the best way for Gauti to strike back”. This to most would sound a risky ploy where leaving the ball outside off and showing patience would be the most natural correction.

Tom Moody however, who knows a thing or two about coaching and encountered similar problems with the Sri Lankan opener Parnavitarna agrees. “When Fletcher talks about positive intent he is not just talking about Gambhir’s stroke play but his whole approach. When you are out of form, like Gambhir is, a batsman’s first instinct is to survive. You move across in your crease a lot instead of getting a good stride forward or back. It is only when you feel good about your form that you look to score runs…. what Gambhir needs is that positive intent back.”

The Indian opener’s batting in the second innings in the post lunch and tea sessions at the SCG today seemed to justify both Fletcher and Moody. Gambhir instead of the usual poke started off with a full flourish outside off mistiming one to the backward point boundary. Getting the feet moving the batsman also showed the positive intent under question, driving exquisitely through cover and mid-on. Racing to an almost run-a-ball fifty, he  fulfilled Fletcher’s prophecy word for word by managing to edge the ball again as soon as he took the foot off the pedal. Luckily for him the Cricket gods had decided they had inflicted enough misery on the tourists for one day, the first edge not carrying to first slip while the next one slipping through a fumbling Haddin .

Gambhir may have exhibited signs of returning to the form he brandished in his first outing here four years ago, but jumping the gun would be a fool’s errand. The knock just like his previous notable scores abroad comes on the flattest of Sydney tracks, where his nemesis, good old Mr. Bounce, vanished from sight after the first few hours of the first day.

A big score here, just like the left-handers monumental effort in Napier almost three years ago, would come with the Indians’ back to the wall. It will  be a gritty knock and it will be a commendable effort given the pressure the thirty year old is under. But pressure has never been the question Gambhir needs to answer. His actual test will come again at Perth and only time will tell if Fletcher’s simplistic approach will bear fruit under the real scanner. If history and sheer gut feeling is any measure to go by, India would not be worse off re-thinking the openers position in the batting order.

Originally for Pakpassion

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