The last time the Indian team played in Ahmedabad, Gautam Gambhir had cracked a wonderful century — his first in international cricket — against Sri Lanka in 2005.
This time though, while his celebrated colleagues were back at the same ground on Thursday, playing the West Indies, the Delhi opener found himself far way from the limelight. From the promising insider, Gambhir has been reduced to a mere spectator, an outsider trying to reclaim what he thinks is rightfully his.
And on Friday, Gambhir took another significant step in his quest by playing a tenacious knock of 70, one that laid the platform for later batsmen, especially Joginder Sharma and Mahesh Rawat, to tear into Central Zone’s bowling in their Duleep Trophy encounter here at the Keenan Stadium.
At stumps on Day One, North were in a commanding position at 310 for five with Mahesh Rawat and Joginder Sharma going strong. Rawat was batting on 59 while, Sharma on 65.
It wasn’t the art, as is the case often with Gambhir as he has all the shots in his repertoire, but the application that stood out in his knock. The Kookaburra balls, that are being used for the first time in domestic cricket, tend to swing prodigiously early on, but the way Gambhir blunted the threat was a treat to watch.
Assured and composed, Gambhir’s impervious defence and decisive strokeplay troubled Central bowlers no end. Gambhir was wonderfully assisted by Yashpal Singh, who scored a graceful 74.
While Gambhir’s knock was all substance, Yashpal’s innings displayed his exemplary style. Blessed with great technique and nimble footwork, Yashpal produced all the shots in the book. His two sixes — one over long-off and long-on off leggie Piyush Chawla and left arm-spinner Murali Kartik — were a treat to watch.
Earlier, after winning the toss and batting first, North lost Aakash Chopra in the third over. Medium-pacer Praveen Kumar, who had been bowling in-swinging deliveries till then, got one to hold its line and jag back off the surface, trapping Chopra in front.
But then Gambhir bought Kumar down to earth by hammering him for three consecutive boundaries in his third over, his two breathtaking straight drives nearly creating a hole in the sightscreen. He and Ravneet Ricky put on 56 runs for the second wicket before Ricky closed his bat’s face early to an Anand Rajan delivery and was snared at gully.
Yashpal then joined Gambhir and North Zone surged to 118 for two at lunch, with Gambhir unbeaten on 67. However, in the second over after lunch, Gambhir slashed at a wide one from JP Yadav, and Brijesh Tomar took a brilliant catch to end his knock. It was the first time that his concentration had wavered and he paid the price.
Captain Mitthun Manhas followed three overs later while attempting an inexplicable heave off Chawla. When Yashpal was dubiously adjudged hit-wicket for 74, North were still far from safe but Rawat and Sharma’s unbeaten 99-run partnership ensured opening day blues for Central.
North Zone (1st innings): A Chopra lbw Praveen 1, G Gambhir c B Tomar b JP Yadav 70, R Ricky c Tomar b Rajan 20, Yashpal hit-wicket b Yadav 74, M Manhas b Chawla 2, M Rawat batting 59, J Sharma batting 65; Extras (b-5, lb-4, nb-10): 19.
Total (for five wickets): 310
Fall of wkts: 1-2, 2-58, 3-125, 4-132, 5-211.
Bowling: Praveen 19-4-58-1, JP Yadav 24-11-50-2, Rajan 10-1-36-1, Chawla 21-2-81-1, Kartik 18-1-76-0.