By Devarchit Varma
Not all in the ranks and file of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) understand the significance of having the Indian cricketers or those who could potentially represent the country, play in different countries and in tournaments. It provides the players a chance to learn, hone their skills and improve many fold. Only a few Indians play cricket outside the country apart from international cricket. But, if an opportunity comes someone’s way, like in the case of Gautam Gambhir — the talented opener who was axed for being out of form for far too long — it becomes imperative to grab it with both the hands and make the most of it.
The BCCI prevents the Indian cricketers (perhaps from fatigue amid a busy calendar) with a straightforward but not-so-smart logic of not allowing them to play in foreign leagues like the Big Bash League or the now-defunct Sri Lankan Premier League. Unfortunately, this move forbids the Indian cricketers to learn a thing or two while not playing the ever-demanding international cricket. The international calendar also doesn’t permit someone who is in the main lot to go back to the drawing board and iron out the flaws. But, in the case of the 31-year-old discarded Gambhir, who has now signed up for English County side Essex for the remainder of the season, it comes as a welcome development — something which should have a massive impact on his career.
Arguably, Gambhir has lot of cricket left in him. He is 31, has the necessary numbers and feats to show in his resume, and is immensely experienced. Gambhir has all the requisites of a complete batsman. He batted nearly 11 hours in adverse conditions at Napier to save a Test match. He scored 97 in a World Cup final. But when the runs stopped flowing, he was thrown out of contention for not responding in a desired manner.
It was believed that Indian selectors would consider him for India’s tour of Zimbabwe, but that didn’t happen. While Gambhir sought the assistance of WV Raman in order to improve and return to the national side, the selectors thought it wasn’t enough. The runs were still missing. The Indian Premier League (IPL) 2013 too wasn’t that fruitful — 406 runs in 16 matches at 25.37. However, one must remember that the Indian selectors do not consider the IPL performances for national selection.
Rahul Dravid with Kent in 2000; Zaheer Khan with Worcestershire in 2006; Harbhajan Singh with Surrey in 2005 and 2007 and with Essex in 2012; and Pragyan Ojha with Surrey in 2011 are examples how County cricket can help a cricketer improve even more. Dravid’s vast experience in County helped him score hundreds of runs even on his last tour to England in 2011, while the others struggled. Zaheer credits the remarkable change in his career to the stint with Worcestershire. Harbhajan made an impressive return in the ICC T20 World Cup 2012. Ojha’s outing too had a favourable result. The Australians have been flocking County sides since years and have excelled. Even in the current season there are as many as 18 Australians in County cricket, including the retired Ricky Ponting. Many of the South African cricketers, who were part of the victorious side in 2012 in England, played County cricket in the past and continue to do so.
Gambhir has 4,021 runs with nine tons and 21 half-centuries in Test cricket. His batting average of 44.18 is more than enough to make him eligible for any national side. Look at Australia, currently they do not have many who are averaging more than 40 and are yet out of national reckoning. In this regard, India should consider themselves lucky to have a batsman of calibre of Gambhir in the ranks.
Away from the rigours of international cricket and the lures of IPL, playing one season of County cricket has many benefits. Apart from brushing shoulders with some of the top cricketers one also gets to play on different kinds of tracks in different settings. One also mingles with cricketers from different cultures and as Zaheer shared with GQ India, “When you are at home, in many ways you are taken care of. But when you play a County season you have to do everything yourself and still be prepared for the game.”
All that Gambhir needs is runs, and getting them in County cricket would do him a world of good. Gambhir has the technique — at times he has shown he could be a Rahul Dravid or a Virender Sehwag. In his entire career, Gambhir has been a gritty character with tons of self belief. For any struggling batsman the only way to bet back on track is by scoring runs, and Gambhir needs to rediscover his mojo. One would only hope that Gambhir’s stint in County cricket helps him regain the lost form, and he makes an impressive comeback as his former teammates have.
Won’t it be a perfect setting — Gambhir travelling to England as India opener for the Test series in 2014 and having success at a place where it all began for the Southpaw?
(Devarchit Varma is a reporter with CricketCountry. He can be followed on Twitter @Devarchit)