He is 35, an age when the selectors start looking for signs of slowing reflexes and diminishing drive. And when a rich batting pool is available, like in India, the scrutiny becomes all the more.
But the intense look, which critics term as attitude, also suggests a fierce drive to succeed. More importantly, the selectors are convinced that Gautam Gambhir still has fire in his belly to compete against the best at international level.
Not having played a Test for two years, he only got a break as injury cover for the regular openers, but in that short stint, the selectors and team management were convinced the diminutive batsman can be of value to the top-ranked Test outfit. His experience, ability to play spin and grit provides India’s top order the balance.
It’s ironical that written off after the 2014 Test series in England, Gambhir’s career gets a fresh lease of life against the same opponents.
At first it looked Gambhir had benefitted only because KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan were unavailable due to injury. But chairman of selectors, MSK Prasad, declared he was always in the fray to partner Murali Vijay.
“One thing I want to make very clear is that we are thinking 10 times before picking a player, but if we pick a player he should be given chances. Even if the regular openers would have come, we would have still given preference to Gambhir because we have considered him and he should be given a fair chance,” the former India stumper said on Wednesday.
Horses for courses
There is logic behind the pick. Purely looking at the next 10 Tests, Gambhir fits the horses-for-courses policy. His game is suited to subcontinent conditions, where handling spin can be tricky. England captain Alastair Cook will acknowledge how Gambhir in India and away can be an entirely different challenge.
He may have been clueless in the four innings in England two years ago but against Cook’s team at home, in 2012, Gambhir was among the few batsmen who got runs in almost all games, averaging 41.83.
Pairing him with Vijay, India will have a left-right combination.
It is to India’s advantage that there is competition for places at the top of the order.
Had it not been for Rahul’s hamstring injury suffered in the first Test against New Zealand, he would have been the first-choice, given the rapid strides he has made.
The team is for the first two Tests and Rahul will be breathing down the Delhi veteran’s neck on return.
However, Rahul will first have to prove his fitness in a match situation. Prasad made it clear they were against picking anyone without his fitness being proved in a match situation. Thus Bhuvneshwar Kumar missed out despite getting an all-clear from the physiotherapist after recovering from an ankle injury, while Ishant Sharma is in.
Sidelined by chikungunya, Ishant played Ranji Trophy for Delhi along with his captain Gambhir. Delhi coach Bhaskar Pillay gave them the thumbs up. After a slow start in their first game (against Karnataka), they produced a strong showing against Odisha.
“Gambhir batted really well in getting a hundred in the last game (in Punjab vs Odisha). There was some pressure on him when he missed out on a big score in the first match at Kolkata, but he proved his fitness and form in the last innings.
“Ishant was naturally slightly stiff in the first game as chikungunya affects your joints, but he was bowling flat out in Mohali,” said Pillay.
With Rohit Sharma, Rahul and Dhawan injured, Karnataka batsman Karun Nair retained his place in the squad.
Virat Kohli (captain), M Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vice captain), R Ashwin, W Saha (wk), R Jadeja, Amit Mishra, M Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Karun Nair, Jayant Yadav.