India vs New Zealand: Gautam Gambhir's script on track for a fairytale ending following Test recall
Despite losing the script for his career somewhere in 2012, Gautam Gambhir at 34 is more than capable of staging a fairytale ending.
It's 2011 and Gambhir is one of India's most accomplished batsmen. The much talked about weakness outside off stump seems to be a thing of the past, as he has tightened his game in the three preceding years. He is also the most versatile player in the team. Capable of playing an 11-hour knock to save a match in Napier, earning him the sobriquet "Second Wall", he can also absorb pressure and score freely in a tight World Cup final chase. A year ago, he captained the side to a 5-0 whitewash against the touring New Zealand side, while also winning the man-of-the-series.
Unsurprisingly, he gets the highest bid in the 2011 IPL auction, with a price tag of $2.4 million. As vice-captain, he continues to be indispensable to team's plans and is ready to take over as captain whenever the team needs it.
Stories of sport seldom follow the expected script, though. By the end of 2012, Gambhir was dropped from the team. Shikhar Dhawan had announced his arrival with a scintillating hundred on debut against Australia. Gambhir's Test career seemed all but over.
The Delhi batsman wasn't giving up easily, though. Grit and hard work were the cornerstones of his success as a professional cricketer. With Kolkata Knight Riders, he started building one of the most consistent units in the IPL. His own work ethics and values reflect in his KKR side, which along with Chennai Super Kings, is the most cohesive unit in the IPL.
Moreover, unlike some other aging Indian cricketers on the bench, Gambhir wasn't going to spend all his energies only in the IPL every year, and take it easy in first class cricket. In 2013, when his Delhi team had to get outright wins in the Ranji Trophy, he chose to play four matches at Roshanara club instead of Kotla.
The thinking was that the Roshanara pitch was more result oriented and assisted seam and swing in the Delhi winter. Gambhir was focussed on giving his team the possible best chance of winning the title, instead of scoring more runs on batting friendly Kotla to make a comeback to the Indian team.
Even during the off-season, we didn't see Gambhir as an analyst on news studios, something a lot of benched cricketers were doing at the time. Determined to improve his game and make a comeback, he was training in Australia under Justin Langer.
Finally, all the work he put in over the last four years has paid off for Gambhir. He was rewarded with a call up to do the opener's job again at what should now be called his home ground, Kolkata's Eden Gardens. Yes, he played a couple of matches in England in 2014, but this time, he has the chance of using the extended home season to make a mark.
Gambhir, with his knowledge and experience, brings a lot to the table, especially in a young team like India. He can be a part of the team think-tank on these home pitches where he has been playing regularly this season. At times, home pitches are alien to our own cricketers as well since they never get a chance to play much domestic first-class cricket. The current batting lineup isn't as assured against spinners as the previous generations. Gambhir, still one of the top players against spin in the country, can counter any spin threat and if Kohli and Kumble use him well, can help others in the nets.
Much has been written about his tiff with Dhoni and Kohli, most of which falls in the realms of fiction. Professional sport isn't a tea party where men gather to have polite discussion and a few laughs. Many successful teams of the past have had personal feuds that never came in the way of team success. Gilchrist and Warne, who made the most successful wicketkeeper and bowler combination in cricket history, wouldn't often see eye to eye. If you think Kohli and Gambhir had an ugly scuffle, which happens every day between the best of friends playing at any Delhi mohalla, you should check out the youtube clip of McGrath pushing his long-time teammate Hayden during an Australia vs Australia A match.
Yes, there was the unfortunate and childish Kevin Pietersen saga, but don't expect to see a repeat of that with Gambhir. Despite being feisty, ultra competitive and outspoken, Gambhir has a mature head and won't jeopardise this second coming in any way.
Only time will tell how successful his comeback will be, but he surely has a chance of making it count with a long home season ahead. His weaknesses outside off stump aren't going to be much of a handicap on these pitches where there is hardly any movement with the new ball. He has shown in the past that when in form, he can fix his technical flaws and score runs everywhere.
Moreover, he isn't the only left-handed batsman who has a hard time negotiating deliveries outside the off stump. Most right arm bowlers slide the ball across left-handers and even successful openers like Alistair Cook have had phases in their careers when they keep nicking it to the slip cordon.
Some critics are questioning if he is already too old to serve Indian cricket in the long term. You only have to look at the recent successes of the Pakistan team, which have come on the back of performances from people like Younis Khan and Misbah ul-Haq. Both have shown that if you stay fit, it is possible to play well and contribute to the team's success even when you are 40.
Despite losing the script for his career somewhere in 2012, Gambhir at 34 is more than capable of staging a fairytale ending.
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