The search for Gautam Gambhir’s off-stump

by Ashish Magotra  Sep 20, 2012 23:00 IST

#Gautam Gambhir   #India   #off stump   #World T20  

Coach Duncan Fletcher needs to help Gautam Gambhir because at the moment, the India opener is pretty lost. And if the left-hander is lost, then so is India because in a T20 match, a good start is worth its weight in gold.

He wanders around at the batting crease looking for a way out of this rut, he practices hard but unless he finds his off-stump, there is no telling how long his bad run is going to continue.

A run of low scores usually indicates you haven’t spent enough time batting out on the pitch. Usually, the way around this is to just bat – without worrying about scoring runs; bat conservatively and re-learn some of the good batting habits. Let the ball hit the middle of the bat, let the feet go the pitch of the ball, leave a few balls and if it means you're a bit slow so be it.

Gambhir getting bowled against Afghanistan. AP

They used to say that if you watched Sunil Gavaskar in the nets, you would really wonder whether he was truly the man who the Windies couldn’t get out at all. He would be getting bowled an awful lot – but that was mostly because he was trying to figure out where exactly his off-stump was; what he could leave; what he should play that. He would practice to the point of perfection, so that his judgement wouldn’t let him down.

Wisden nominated him in its top five cricketers of the year in 1980 and summed up his batting thus: “When he sets his sights high he builds his innings with meticulous care, limiting himself to the strokes he knows best -- drive through the covers, past the bowlers and between mid on and midwicket. But when he lets his hair down, his range of shots and the power behind them are astonishing.”

And perhaps there is a lesson for Gambhir there. Too often in the recent past has he been dismissed attempting the dab/poke outside the off-stump. It is a stroke that has got him lots of runs in recent times; it is his get out of jail shot – when he has no other shot to play, he uses this shot to get the single and rotate the strike.

But if he limits himself to shots that he knows best, he will gain in confidence and then be able to play the big shots.

Conventional wisdom would dictate that Gambhir has neither the time nor the luxury to do that. After all, Gavaskar wasn’t playing T20s, he was playing Tests and he could take his time.

After the match against Afghanistan last night, Virat Kohli said,“The problem with this format is that you don’t have time to recover. A bad run can extend itself. One bad match can become two, and then three.”

But Chris Gayle, the West Indian opener, does pretty much the same thing. For the first 20-30 balls, he takes it easy – gets a feel of the bowling attack before launching into an almost crazed attack.

Former India cricketer Ravi Shastri was once asked how batsmen lose their judgement of where their off-stump is. His answer was simple.

“Your feet stop moving at the pace they should. You start playing with your hands rather than with your feet. It means your hands are getting ahead of your body,” he said.

And that’s pretty much what’s happening to Gambhir. After each practice, he goes down to Fletcher and duo are seen discussing technique and footwork. But so far it hasn’t helped.

Gambhir’s record in the three formats over the last year is bad but it isn’t beyond saving. In 9 Tests, he made 434 runs at 27.12. In 25 ODIs, he added 1004 runs at 41.83 and in 6 T20Is, he has 144 runs at 36.00. But if he goes on in his current form, he’ll sink and he’ll take India with him.