A very “Unindian” Indian

November 25, 2009

It has been heartwarming to see the rise and rise of Gautam Gambhir. Along with M S Dhoni, he is the one Indian batsman who is secure in the knowledge of his place in the Indian team in all the three formats. On current form, I am sure even Mr. Modi cannot hoodwink him of his place in the side by introducing a fourth (or fifth) format. He will find his place in the team even if the Indian team is asked to play representative baseball.

Yet, this was not always the case. When he made his entry into the team, he looked very diffident to the lay viewer. His susceptibility to anything pitched on or outside the off stump was painfully visible. The ugly prod outside the off stump was pronounced and opening bowlers feasted on his impatience. All that is history now and this is where he is different from almost any Indian cricketer that I have seen, with the possible exception of the magnificent Anil Kumble.

Historically, Indian cricketers arrive on the international scene with a lot of fanfare or are somehow sneaked into the team by selectors wielding their “regional quota” prerogatives. Thankfully, over the years and particularly so since the Sourav-Wright tenure, instances of the latter have come down significantly. What happens subsequently has been the scourge of Indian cricket for some time.

Indian cricketers who arrived with a lot of expectations include Chetan Sharma, Raju Kulkarni (remember him), Maninder Singh, L Sivaramakrishnan, Atul Wassan, W V Raman, Praveen Amre, Sadanand Vishwanath (who cannot remember him), Vivek Razdan, Wasim Jaffer, Mohd. Kaif, and so on. The list is pretty long. In addition to the weight of expectations, what is common to all of them is the almost predictable manner in which their careers have proceeded since their arrival. Without exception, all of them have appeared like a meteor and tragically for Indian cricket, disappeared like one too. We can ascribe various theories including the conspiracy ones to explain their demise, but the fact remains that over the years, in almost every cricketing generation, Indian cricket lost the services of significant talents. An extreme case of this would be Vinod Kambli who shone ever so brightly, albeit for a very short period.

Players like Mohd. Azharuddin and Sanjay Manjrekar fall into broadly the same bucket, in the sense that they did not significantly enhance their reputations during their career. The degrees may vary, but the overall hypothesis remains the same. In the recent past, it is only Dravid, Tendulkar, Sourav. Laxman and Kumble who it can be said safely that enhanced their stature significantly during their playing days. Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar (if it is possible in the maestro’s case) continue to build on their legend. For the rest, it was almost as if they were the “finished product” even at the time of their international debut and were incapable of subsequent improvements, a trait so important to succeed at the highest level, be it sport or life.

Gambhir’s case has been completely different and in the recent annals of Indian cricket almost unique . As already mentioned, he was hardly noticed by the Indian public when he made his international appearance. He came on the back of strong performances in domestic cricket which, the Indian cricket fan largely chooses to ignore. Yet when he made his debut against Bangladesh, there were no indications of his prowess with the bat. Over the next couple of years, his better performances were largely against minnows like Bangladesh and he was, rightly so, consigned to the backyards of Indian domestic cricket. A very predictable script thus far, a script that has been played out over and over again. Indian cricket fans would have accepted the fading away of Gambhir at this stage from the inernational scene with a sigh and a shrug. But then things changed dramatically, thankfully, for the better. He continued to work on his game with a steely determination that is by and large absent in Indian cricketers. He refused to accept that he was not international class and plotted his comeback. His second coming has been a blessing for a team that has always struggled to put two world class opening batters to kick start the innings. Matters have been helped by the following factors as well.

1. In Sehwag, Gambhir has found the “perfect” partner. The compatibility that comes with having played cricket together for a long time has aided the cementing of this pair’s place in the team. To give Gambhir credit, he has never let himself be blinded by the incandescence of Sehwag’s strokeplay and audacity at the other end. He has chosen to be his own man and by all admissions, has made a fist of it.

2. Gambhir also seems to enjoy the faith that his captain, M S Dhoni, has in him. Dhoni has made him feel secure about his place in the team which is invaluable for a team member. Most players perform their best when they have the confidence of the captain and the rest of the team behind them.

3. The fall in the quality of fast bowling over the last few years. Let us face it, with the retirement of Donald, McGrath, Shaun Pollock, and the absence of bowlers like Shane Bond and Shoaib Akthar for various reasons, life of batsmen in general and opening batsmen in particular has become simpler. It is to the credit of Gambhir that he has made full toll of the situation presented to him.

Over the last couple of years, Gambhir has shown enough indication of emerging as the best “pureplay” opener that India has produced since Sunny Gavaskar. He has been the one Indian cricketer who With age on his side and with Sehwag for a partner at the other end, let us wish him all the very best in playing out his potential.


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