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Coming in to Indian premier League (IPL) 2014, Gautam Gambhir had a good run in the domestic matches. But three ducks and a single has in all but dragged him back to square one. Abhijit Banare tips Gambhir to bounce back despite a potentially poor season ahead.
“People think I’m cool, in control, unperturbed, but they have no idea. My face is a lie. Losing is hell, losing turns you into a performance artist. You don’t want to show yourself at the moment. So you wear a mask, it’s like a shutter that descends with defeat. Inside you are falling apart, but the mask imprisons emotion, it won’t let out.” These are some of the gems from Indian shooter Abhinav Bindra’s autobiography written with Rohit Brijnath.
Deep down, it’s a situation Gautam Gambhir finds himself in. A young pacer, Sandeep Sharma, sprints in and the leading edge was almost taken by the bowler on its way back. Everyone laughed; the commentators, spectators, viewers and Gambhir himself. Being out of form is a mindset which you don’t want to show to the bowler, the camera and the entire world. But the three ducks in a row had stripped his mask, the insecurities and fears were wide open for everyone to see. The smile Gambhir gave looking downwards was not going to convince anyone. (When was the last time you remember Gambhir smiling on the field?)
The seventh edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) will be a huge test of character for Gambhir and another southpaw, Yuvraj Singh. These are players who once dominated and frustrated bowling attacks with their finesse but the IPL allows any bowler to have a go at them and worse, face the music against their own India teammates. Gambhir in particular has to overcome not just his from, but ensure that it doesn’t spill over in to his captaincy and worse, affect the team. If this situation for the left-hander is considered worst, you probably are wrong.
Both the fans and critics know, one fluent knock is all it takes for them to earn the confidence. But Gambhir, similar to Yuvraj, is facing an unfair battle to prove himself in a format which is not at all ideal to play when you are out of form. This writer had written before the World T20, how Yuvraj and Suresh Raina were taking on the unfair battle to prove themselves through the shortest format at a stage like World T20. Gambhir seems to be on the same path as well.
Both Gambhir and Yuvraj have excellent timing rather than brute power which makes them look elegant, which is the case with most left-handers. Robbing them of it is equivalent to making Navjot Singh Sidhu commentate in sedate English. While Yuvraj is struggling with his timing, Gambhir is fighting for life to get bat on ball confidently.
Where does Gambhir go from here?
Most experienced cricketers will say that it’s all in the mind. Gambhir will have to fight his way through this season. Among the ‘seniors’ who found themselves out in the domestic wilderness over the last year and a half, Gambhir has undoubtedly been the better among them when it comes to domestic performances. He scored with authority in the Ranji Trophy, and in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, he scored 75 against Haryana before coming in to IPL. Statistics may laugh at ‘dismissed four times scoring just one,’ but Gambhir won’t mind that at all.
As mentioned earlier, this isn’t the format to fight. Twenty20 (T20) often gives a false perception about form. Yuvraj scored a half-century against Australia in the ICC World T20 2014 league stages. But that didn’t count when he faltered and crashed later. Similarly, there are matches ahead for Gambhir and class players like him are always going to play that odd fine innings. But counting on them is hazardous for the people around him and for Gambhir himself. You never know when luck runs out. Charging down the wicket and hitting through the covers has been Gambhir’s trademark shot to break loose at any stage in the game. When the mind drags you down, the bottom edges crash on to the stumps more often.
Luck has been a much debated subject in sports along with skill. The shorter the format, greater the reliance on luck and when you aren’t in form, keeping the edge away and playing in the air aren’t in your control. Ironically, even a green track or featherbed doesn’t matter when you aren’t in form. Those who will write off Gambhir and Yuvraj if this season ends poorly for them may do it on their own peril. More than the India comeback, regaining form to prove themselves is what matters to these players, and Gambhir especially will do anything for it. 2007 was equally testing, but this is a different phase of Gambhir’s career. He will be confident to take this fight beyond the IPL and take one more season to regain ground and prove that he is still good enough. At the same time, taking the IPL casually isn’t something Gambhir can afford. For the sake of the team, you can expect the intensity to be as good as seeing him in any India match.
(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)
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