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Gambhir must succeed at Essex if he wants to go to South Africa

Gautam Gambhir is eyeing the English County championship route to reclaim his place in the Indian team.

There is some hope for the left-hander – albeit if he finds form during his stint with Essex – with India scheduled for a tough tour of South Africa in November. A third specialist opener is crucial, especially for the Test leg, and here lies a possible lifeline for the Delhi batsman, who not long ago held a permanent place in all three formats.

Gautam Gambhir is looking to revive his international career. AP

Gautam Gambhir is looking to revive his international career. AP

Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan have grabbed their opportunities to emerge as the first-choice openers, following their exploits in the home series against Australia, heralding what appears to be the end of the road for the 34-year-od Virender Sehwag, who is both ageing and struggling for form.

Vijay and Dhawan also opened in the ongoing ‘A’ tour of South Africa, where left-handed Dhawan scored a double hundred in a List A limited-overs tri-series that preceded the unofficial Test series – a dress rehearsal to the full tour.

Rohit Sharma, who has displayed adaptability to adjust to the opener’s role in One-Day International cricket, is a possible third opener’s option for the three-Test series, if the need arises. The talented batsman is yet to make his Test debut, although the Mumbaikar scored a century in the ongoing first ‘Test’ batting at No 4.

However, experience is what Gambhir will bring to the top in South Africa, where India are yet to win a Test series in five visits, but came close to doing so on their previous tour in 2010-11.

Gambhir, who tallies 4021 runs with nine hundreds and 21 fifties in 54 Tests, scored 242 runs in the two Tests he played in South Africa on the previous tour, with 93 and 64 in the drawn final Test.

The pugnacious southpaw was the ICC Test Player of the Year in 2009 after he hit eight centuries in 13 Tests as India stormed to the top of the Test table. A slump in form led to 31-year-old Gambhir being dropped from both Test and limited-overs teams earlier this year, and the grapevine has it that the selection committee is unhappy with the southpaw’s general attitude following the 2011 World Cup triumph.

Gambhir is expected to turn out for Essex against Northamptonshire starting on Tuesday in what will be the first of the Chelmsford-based team’s final six matches as they eye promotion. For the Delhi opener it is an opportunity to regain his touch and get runs to remind the national selectors before they sit down to pick the squad for South Africa that he is good enough to be counted on.

A stint in English country cricket has over the years helped several Indian stars regain their focus, most notable in recent times being Zaheer Khan, who reemerged as an international strike bowler in 2007 following a stint with Worcestershire for whom he took 78 wickets in 16 games.

“It helped me get into a routine which is very helpful for your cricket. You get to experiment with a lot of things, and if you are doing things well you are able to continue those things over a period of time. It definitely gave me a boost in confidence,” Zaheer said at the time.

Sanjay Rajan is a senior sports writer who has been following Indian cricket closely for over two decades. He can be followed on Twitter @ sanjayrajan41.