What’s more important: Carrying the bat, or carrying the interests of the team? © Getty Images
After the eighth Indian wicket went down, Gautam Gambhir faced 27 deliveries with defensive prods to score six runs, showing no inclination to farm the strike or attempt some quick runs. Arunabha Sengupta does an over by over analysis of the fourth morning at Wankhede to argue that it was a pathetic display, deserving a slap on the wrist.
At the end of the 41st over of India’s second innings in the second Test at the Wankhede, Shane Warne was exasperated enough to tweet: “Surely Ghambir should not be taking singles??? I think as he has been in poor form he wants a not out!!!!! Team first please…..”
Was the legendary leggie being a bit too harsh on the Indian opening batsman? Australians have been known to be overly critical about the Indian approach to cricket.
On the other hand, Gambhir has indeed been struggling in the longest format of the game for over two years – in recent times he has tried to hide behind inane comments, quoting some mathematically imbecilic numbers. He had got to a fifty after quite a while and a not out would surely do wonders for his plummeting average.
And besides, he was on the verge of joining Sunil Gavaskar, Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid as the only openers to carry their bats for India. Was that fact playing on his mind as well? Obsession for records is not really a well-kept secret in this country.
If asked candidly, Gambhir will of course have a lot of arguments to defend himself. First of all, the situation was hopeless. Secondly, he may have looked for singles and could not find the gaps in the field in spite of his best efforts.
Well, let us take an objective look at the situation and the response of the Indians.
An over by over analysis
The eighth Indian went down when Harbhajan Singh was snapped up in the slips off Graeme Swann. The man with two hundreds in Test cricket had lasted five balls, with a lofted boundary over mid-off to show for his efforts. Another Test centurion, Ravinchandran Ashwin, had fallen while trying to drive Monty Panesar over the covers, with just a few minutes to go for stumps to be drawn on the third evening.
It was 128 for eight in the 35th over – a sorry tale. India was ahead by just 42 runs. Zaheer Khan was the new man in. Gambhir was batting on 59.
Three decades ago, when the seventh second innings wicket had gone down and Ian Botham had been joined at the wicket by Graham Dilley, England had needed 92 more to make Australia bat again. When Terry Alderman had bowled Dilley, England were ahead by just 25. The rest is history.
True, a miracle did take place that day. Botham kept hooking and the balls flew off the middle and also off top edges to vacant areas in the outfield. Dilley kept slashing and often found the middle of the bat; and if that did not happen, edges flew to the third man boundary. Rod Marsh later said that luck had a huge role to play. Reasoning along the same lines, we can perhaps just about justify the bravado shown by Harbhajan and Ashwin. But, what about the show of Gambhir after Zaheer joined him?
The wicket had proven to be treacherous. Panesar and Swann had managed to tie the Indian batsmen into knots. At least on paper India had three front-line spinners. A fourth innings target of 150 or thereabouts could have given them an outside chance. Was it a mathematical impossibility push the lead to that region? At least an attempt could have been made, with Gambhir– chiselled by One-Day Internationals and Twenty 20– showing some intent.
This is what he chose to do.
Over No. 35 – Zaheer defended the last of the over and Gambhir wanted to scamper across for a single! Zaheer would have kept the strike if that had been taken, but he sent the opener back.
Over No. 36 – Gambhir defended two balls and took a single off the third.
Over No. 37 – Gambhir took a run off the first ball! As Zaheer took strike, four men crowded the bat. He managed a single off the third ball. Gambhir padded the fourth ball and defended the last two.
Over No. 38 – Zaheer slogged the fourth ball of the over from Panesar, top edging it for Matt Prior to gobble up a skier. The batsmen crossed over. So Pragyan Ojha stood at the non-striker end while Gambhir solidly defended the two remaining balls.
Over No. 39 – Ojha played out a maiden over. The last ball was pushed into the gap on the off-side, but for a change Gambhir decided to keep the strike.
Over No. 40 – After the noble act of refusing a single off the last ball of the previous over, Gambhir drove the first ball down to long on for one! Ojha lived through a rousing lbw appeal, a hoicked boundary and a clear bat-pad catch which was for some reason turned down by Aleem Dar.
Over No. 41 – Gambhir defended every ball diligently. It was at this juncture that Shane Warne tweeted his vexation.
Shane Warne’s tweet on Gautam Gambhir.
Over No. 42 – Ojha heaved the first ball to get an inside edge for a single. Gambhir stoutly defended the next three. He pushed the fifth ball to the off trudged out for a single. On second thoughts, he came back for two. Ojha, miles out of his crease, survived as the throw was wide. Having managed to retain strike for the last ball, Gambhir presented a dead bat to it.
Over No. 43 – Ojha managed a single off the second ball, and Gambhir defended the remaining four.
Over No. 44 – A leg bye off the fourth ball gave Gambhir the strike. He turned the next one for a single.
Over No. 45 – Gambhir was out, adjudged leg before off an inside edge.
So, he could not carry his bat after all, scoring 65 runs in just over three hours. The Indians were all out for 142.
On the fourth morning, after the eighth wicket went down, Gambhir scored six from 27 deliveries.
All the 27 balls were either left alone, deliberately padded or defensive prods and pushes. There was one drive which went to long-on for a single. Apart from that there was no drive, cut, pull, steer or even – strange given two spinners were in operation – an attempted sweep.
Based on this 27-ball evidence, is it indeed very difficult for one to believe that he was trying to set a decent target for the Indian bowlers to bowl at. It was nothing but a pathetic attempt at self-survival –for the inflation of his own numbers, to have that not out against his name in the final card, to go down as the fourth man to have carried his bat for India. Even his demise – a wrong decision – came off a defensive prod. In many ways, the umpiring error was poetic justice. This disgusting display was in no way fit to be bracketed with the valiant efforts of Gavaskar, Sehwag and Dravid.
In 1984, after a similar defeat to England in what was also the second Test of the series, two players lost their places in the side due to callous shot selection. Strangely, the two men to get the axe were Sandeep Patil, the current chief selector, and Kapil Dev, a man who has been voicing his opinions increasingly loudly.
The show by Gambhir on the fourth morning was in sharp contrast to their acts. Every stroke was a percentage, zero-risk shot with minimum chance of dismissal. But, it was right up there in being exactly what the team did not want. Based on the evidence provided above, the Indian opener is as – or even more – guilty of putting himself way ahead of the team.
But will a similar punitive measure be taken?
The selectors have already made themselves a meaningless group by insisting that a player has the right to decide when to go, and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has stood firmly behind this view to underline their worth as a laughing stock.
One wonders if the wise men even realised that Gambhir’s cautious crawl that morning was deplorable
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)