It was almost 90 minutes into India’s practice on Thursday that Gautam Gambhir faced a ball. By the time he took stance in the pacers’ net, Mohammed Shami, Wriddhiman Saha and Bhuvneshwar Kumar had retired for the day. Virat Kohli, having sweated out for a good 40 minutes, finally found a place to sit and keep an eye on how his Delhi senior shaped up in the first few deliveries from Umesh Yadav and left-arm pacer Aniket Choudhary.
Batting with a wider, open stance, Gambhir looked composed for the first couple of deliveries before Umesh beat him for pace with a ball that thudded into his pads. His next ball opened up Gambhir and almost had him keel over. Between those two deliveries, Choudhary induced a meaty edge that would have flown to second slip had it not been for the net. For the misses or for the fact that he went to bat after more than half the team had trained, Gambhir’s first tryst with an India practice camp in two years wasn’t exactly memorable.
Match-eve practice session batting orders are normally an indication of a team’s plans. But with India it isn’t so straightforward. Kohli was quick to point that out when asked what could be inferred from the timing of Gambhir’s nets. “We basically do the segregation of batsmen in the nets according to who’s had a hit at what stage. It all depends on who has had batting practice on the previous day as well, or who has not or preferably who’s going to play. We definitely look to do that with the batting order a day before,” said Kohli, cautiously avoiding taking Gambhir’s name while explaining.
Having arrived Wednesday evening, Gambhir was left with only one practice session. For the first hour or so, he was seen sipping water, doing some shadow practice with his bat and striking conversation with his former mates, Kohli included. The picture didn’t inspire confidence that Gambhir was being weighed seriously. But Kohli seemed to be in control of the dynamics of Thursday’s practice.
“Sometimes a player does not want to bat in the nets, he just wants throw-downs and walk away. If you won’t see him entering the nets does not mean he won’t play. The day before the game we look to bat the batting order. But at the same time if someone wants to pull out, that does not mean he will not play. It’s as per the preparation preference that an individual has before the game,” he said.
Addressing the elephant in the room wasn’t the order of the day and probably for valid reasons. On one hand is Shikhar Dhawan, who last played in the St Lucia Test during the tour of West Indies. He has gone around with the team since then, dutifully going through the motions at nets without much luck till Gambhir arrived on the back of huge domestic scores to add more suspense to the scene.
If Gambhir gets the nod on Friday, it will surely deal a huge blow to Dhawan’s belief that he could still matter for India, at least at home. The same can’t be said for Gambhir if the opposite happens.