When the national selection committee convenes in Mumbai on Monday to pick the squad for the Test series against New Zealand, one man should make the discussion a little uncomfortable --- Gautam Gambhir. When he was written off after the England series at home in 2012, Gambhir had scores of 45, 4, 65, 60, 40 and 37 against Alastair Cook’s men.
Next year, Shikhar Dhawan’s scintillating debut century in Mohali made people forget Gambhir. And perhaps just to reinforce the notion that Gambhir had lost his touch, he was brought back against a top class opposition on seaming pitches where the rest of the team too had collapsed like him.
The irony is that Gambhir’s lasting memories in whites were those four forgettable innings at Old Trafford and The Oval. Players on the rebound have nothing to lose, but they also are not given a long rope. Once he was run out for three, comfortably forgotten were Gambhir’s centuries that won India Tests, or that marathon 436-ball 137 at Napier that helped salvage a draw.
None of these would have been brought up had Gambhir not kept doing well in the tournaments that mattered. He kept scoring at a brisk rate for Kolkata Knight Riders, and even though the Ranji Trophy didn’t go according to expectations, Gambhir still finished second highest scorer of the team with 488 runs from eight matches. Timely however is the touch Gambhir has shown at the Duleep Trophy.
India play the next 13 Tests at home. Hence Gambhir’s form --- 77, 90, 59 and 94 so far opening for India in the Duleep Trophy --- has relevance. That he is not playing the part of a former India batsman going through the motions is apparent in how Gambhir still wants to improve. It’s rare to find a 56-Test veteran willing to change his stance after more than a decade in international cricket. Gambhir had no hesitation in taking lessons from Justin Langer or approaching WV Raman, both left-handed openers as well like him.
He is 34. But he still feels there is scope of improvement. That is testimony to a man’s will to prove himself again.
Credentials as opener
With his recent spate of scores, Gambhir has shown he is ready to undertake the India comeback test again. The biggest question would be where to play him. The last thing Virat Kohli needs is another opener in a squad where he is already struggling to accommodate Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul.
Having opened in 97 out of 100 innings, Gambhir hasn’t done anything else. Accommodating Gambhir in this line-up is difficult but he also remains someone who can wear down the ball or take the attack to the bowlers. That also brings up the equation between Kohli and Gambhir, thanks to their history of public outbursts. Too many Delhi boys in the dressing room need not always make for a happy one.
Selecting a squad for an overseas tour is relatively easier. At home, the squad will be a maximum of 14 players. Pack it with batsmen has been more or less the theme.
If Monday’s meeting goes along familiar lines, Gambhir’s name should come up. There will be many factors raised against it --- his age, this being a team for the future, too many openers and younger players like Mayank Agarwal being in the fray. Most of the factors would sound logical. But there’s no denying that at home very few batsmen are more consistent than Gambhir.