‘Bring Back Gautam’ read a banner at the Greater Noida Sports Complex on the second day of the ongoing Duleep Trophy final. Just one day before the national selectors were to announce the squad for the upcoming home Test series against New Zealand.
For Asmita, Aryanka, Surbhi and Priya — the four die-hard Gautam Gambhir fans who held the banner on Sunday — the news of their hero getting ignored by the national selectors yet again would have been heartbreaking, although hardly a surprise.
Ever since he was run-out for a lowly 3 in the second innings of Oval Test two summers ago, Gautam Gambhir has virtually been buried by the Indian team management. With his age touching the 35-year-mark next month, there seems to be little hope that the technically-sound southpaw will don the Indian jersey again.
His run in the 2016 edition of the Duleep Trophy would have come as a great source of hope for him. Four consecutive half-centuries as captain of the India Blue team — 77, 59, 90 and 94 to be specific — can be described as career-resurrecting for most.
Unless you are Kevin Pietersen, for whom an unbeaten 355 for Surrey was not enough to warrant a place in the new-look England side. His case however, is quite different from that of Gambhir.
Coming back to the Indian scenario, Gambhir has displayed tremendous resilience in recent times despite the obstacles, and has sent out a clear message to the selectors and regular members of the Indian team that he still has a massive appetite for runs.
The Delhi skipper might have had an average run in the Ranji Trophy earlier this year, having garnered 488 runs at an average of 37.5. However, he made a point in the Indian Premier League, captaining Kolkata Knight Riders and amassing over 500 runs to finish as the fourth-highest run-getter.
The latest edition of the Duleep Trophy, which went into experimental mode this year with the revamping of the sides as well as the introduction of pink balls, would have been an ideal platform for Gambhir to make his way back into the Test side.
And he did score runs in the last couple of games, leading from the front, with 320 runs at an average of 80, even if most of those came on a flat Noida track. Given the fact that the Indian team are on the cusp of a long Test season on home soil, Gambhir’s performances couldn’t have come at a better time.
In the end, the only player whose Duleep feats were taken into account while selecting the India squad for the New Zealand Tests is Cheteshwar Pujara, whose consecutive tons (including an unbeaten 256) has helped wipe clean his slate that bore the stains of an average run in the recently-concluded tour of West Indies.
There were quite a few eyebrows raised after the selectors announced their 15-member squad, which basically is the same as the one that toured West Indies sans all-rounder Stuart Binny and Mumbai uncapped pacer Shardul Thakur.
One would question their decision to award yet another chance to the likes of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan in the batting lineup. Both batsmen, fantastic in the shorter formats, started off their Test careers with a bang, but have failed to maintain consistency since then.
The fact that the duo, especially Rohit, enjoy the backing of Test skipper Virat Kohli might have helped them get another shot in the longest format. However, that should not have happened at the cost of overlooking a stalwart who has proved himself across formats, and is desperate to revive his international career.
Sure, he had problems getting along with MS Dhoni, who currently leads India in the limited-overs fixtures. His relations with Kohli might not be the best either. His ego might have caused his world a whole lot of harm.
However, this was the time for the team management for look past those factors and give him a crack at the top of the order. Who knows, Gambhir would have made for a more stable opening partner with KL Rahul.
Given the fact that Black Caps coach Mike Hesson has hinted at deploying three spinners — Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi and Mark Craig — against the Indians, even early in the innings if the situation calls for it, Gambhir’s ability to handle spin well would have come in handy for the hosts.
The road ahead looks bleak for Gambhir, who will now have to come up with something extraordinary in the Ranji Trophy that starts on 6 October. Talks of his international career virtually coming to an end are already doing the rounds, especially with Kohli and the selectors increasingly opting for a more settled side. An opportunity at this stage of his career would be nothing short of a miracle for him.
But until that happens, fans will continue to hold banners at domestic games with heavy hearts.