Mumbai: Once upon a time, selectors (during domestic tournaments) thronged stadiums with their thinking hats to pick the best players for the national team. But cricket no more knocks the local doors to scout talents. With modernisation and digital age ruling the roost, IPL made the sport avant-garde – it is the new channel which accepts energies of popular culture and is the gate to Team India. Why is Gautam Gambhir still waiting at the door?
Four half-centuries, 393 runs in nine outings, out-of-favour India batsman Gambhir turned over a new leaf in the ninth edition of IPL for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR).
He is no more the haggard who struggled in England in 2014, he is flicking like he never did before, sending the odd balls beyond the fence effortlessly and making cover drives look like a Lamborghini whooshing past a busy signal in Moscow.
The left-hander earned a place in the Test side in 2014 owing to his smooth operation in domestic tournaments and consistency in the cash-rich league. Fine, he couldn’t repeat his magic in the whites but currently, he looks crisp to turn out for limited-over cricket when Shikhar Dhawan, his state mate and India opener, is going through a rough patch.
At 34, Gambhir looks 25; he is fitter and striking the ball clean with a slight change of stance. He is able to change shots at the eleventh hour. His aggression and passion is helping him maintain parity with youngsters like Virat Kohli.
On top of that, he has been leading KKR with panache; six wins out of nine matches. Even if he didn’t score a half-century, he chipped in with an unbeaten 38 (against Delhi Daredevils), 37 (against Royal Challengers Bangalore) and 34 (against Kings XI Punjab) – all for winning causes.
Earlier, when India needed a player to deliver in crunch situations in ICC tournaments, Gambhir rose to the occasion. But his 54-ball 75 in the ICC World Twenty20 final against Pakistan (in 2007) got overshadowed by Irfan Pathan’s spell and Joginder Sharma’s last over. The team, led by MS Dhoni, beat Pakistan by five runs.
The ICC World Cup 2011, India’s victory after 28 years, at the Wankhede Stadium is remembered for Dhoni’s finishing touch – the massive six to secure the winning runs off Nuwan Kulasekara – but it was again Gambhir who steadied the ship stitching an 83-run partnership with Kohli after India lost both their openers. Gambhir was dismissed for 97. He remained the unsung hero.
Dhawan may have been successful in the ICC World Cup 2015 but his bat couldn’t win it for India when it mattered. Despite timing the ball well, he threw his wicket when batting on 45 in the semi-final against Australia. The 30-year-old did not deliver against West Indies and India were left reeling at 134 for the loss of six wickets before Dhoni bailed them out. Dhawan (9) didn’t even touch double digits.
Gambhir’s composure could be the key for India’s future accomplishments, unless Dhawan turns the tide towards the business end of the tournament. But there is a catch, the selectors may want to rest Dhawan for the upcoming tour of Zimbabwe. Gambhir - in that case - isn't a bad bet.