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Gambhir turns it on

cricket Updated: Dec 02, 2010 02:47 IST
Nikhilesh Bhattacharya
Nikhilesh Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times
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On the off-side there is God and then there is Sourav Ganguly. Gautam Gambhir is not in the same league yet, but on Wednesday at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium here the left-hander seemed determined to enter his name somewhere down that list.

An inside out shot against Nathan McCullum's off-spin, which sailed past a diving mid-off, was the first in a sequence of hits that left the fielders in the ring watching helplessly and those manning the boundary racking up their laundry bills with desperate, but mostly unsuccessful, slides across the green outfield. Gambhir played some really good shots through the on-side too, including the one with which he got to his century.

The target under lights was not stiff and the New Zealand bowling, with the exception of Daniel Vettori, was ordinary, but this is the kind of innings India want their anchorman to play regularly. Gambhir showed that the pressure of standing in for regular skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni had not made his batting suffer as he scored his first ODI century since the 150 against Sri Lanka at Eden on December 24, 2009.

Not just batting
Gambhir's captaincy, too, was spot on. He decided to go into the match with the same XI that played the first ODI in Guwahati, leaving out left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja.

That proved to be correct because the wicket, though looking brown and dry, did not take a lot of spin and India's part-time spinners did the containing job well. Electing to field keeping the dew factor in mind was vindicated by how well the ball came on to the bat during India's innings.

His opposite number, Vettori, gave the Indians something to ponder when he castled Gambhir's opening partner M Vijay, who tried to sweep off his stumps and once again threw away a good start. Vijay is improving - the 33 he scored here is his highest ODI score in seven matches - but the selectors may find it difficult to keep him in the squad for the rest of the series when they meet here on Thursday.

In came Kohli
For New Zealand, though, Vijay's dismissal was like jumping from the frying pan to the fire because it brought to the crease India's man in form, Virat Kohli. Evoking memories of their match-winning partnership at Eden on Christmas eve last year chasing over 300, Gambhir and Kohli propelled India towards New Zealand's total. They found singles almost at will and hit boundaries with increasing frequency.

A blinder in two attempts by Ross Taylor at short mid-wicket ended Kohli's innings but there was still time for some Yuvraj Singh fireworks. And Gambhir's tryst with the off-side was not finished yet.

Andy McKay, so impressive in the first match, got a front-seat view of it as he was creamed for three consecutive fours past and above point in the 39th over.

In the end, it was all too easy.

The afternoon saw India bowl disciplined lines and lengths without being too threatening. With Brendon McCullum still out with a bad back, New Zealand's batting lacked firepower. Thus India could save singles even with only four inside the ring and not give away too many boundaries either.

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