Form of Sehwag and Gambhir augurs well ahead of India's tour to Australia

Virender Sehwag (left) and Gautam Gambhir’s form is key for India in the Australia tour © AFP

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

The Indian batting seems to have risen above the mediocrity they displayed in England and on the path to top form. In the first innings of the Delhi Test against West Indies, the Indian batting displayed fragility and the implosive tendency which was prevalent on their disastrous tour to England. However, they were up for the challenge during the run chase and have dominated on the first day of the second Test at Kolkata after electing to bat.

 

The form of their openers, in particular, augurs well for India as they have provided them with rollicking starts in the ongoing series against the West Indies. Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag have returned to their dominating best and are looking in good touch first up. Both had tough tours of England as Gambhir was plagued by injuries and Sehwag hurried into an international comeback.

 

Gambhir has looked very still at the crease and his footwork has been encouraging. His feet aren’t stuck in one place as he is moving with the flow of the shot with perfect balance. The spinners have borne the brunt of his inside out shots over cover and that signals his positive mind-frame. The last time India toured Australia, Gambhir had a fantastic run in the Commonwealth Bank Series as he played a key role in India’s triumph. This would be his first Test series Down Under and he would like to replicate his form of 2008.

 

His opening partner Sehwag has played some marvelous knocks in Australia. He is the kind of a player who can get the big scores at a fantastic rate which not only reduces the other team’s advantage but also demoralizes them. In the ongoing series he has got good starts but hasn’t been able to convert them into huge scores as he has lost his wicket against the run of play. The hand-eye coordination, which is his biggest strength, seems perfect. And these are ominous signs for the West Indies and Australia. The danger of a big score of Sehwag’s bat is lurking big time.

 

When India toured Australia in 2003-04, Sehwag and Aakash Chopra had formed a strong opening partnership which was one of the main reasons for India’s success. Holding a strong Steve Waugh-led side to a 1-1 draw was an achievement in itself as all the players contributed in the series. However, the starts provided by the two Delhi batsmen set the tone on a number of occasions. Sehwag would attack the bowlers from the word go and Chopra would add sanity to the proceedings with his grit and guts.

 

The then Australia team had a very strong bowling attack, despite the absence of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. The duo played them well and got a partnership of over a fifty in the first innings of each Test. In fact, their most important contribution came during India’s successful run-chase at Adelaide. They stitched together a partnership of only 48 but it laid the platform for Rahul Dravid and the middle order to finish it off.

 

The fortunes of the Indian team in 2007-09 were different. They did remarkably well to face the controversies and secure a win at Perth after being 2-0 down. But, the unsettled opening combination hurt them as some of the men used for that role couldn’t repeat the antics of 2003-04. Wasim Jaffer entered the series with runs behind him but failed to make an impact. Dravid was made to open in the first two Tests to accommodate Yuvraj Singh in the middle order. It was only when Sehwag entered the scene in the Perth Test that India got the good starts.

 

Keeping the upcoming tour in perspective, India would feel a lot better that they have a settled opening combination unlike the previous tour. Sehwag and Gambhir have batted with each other for years and have gelled to form a destructive pair. Even if Sehwag takes the attack to the opposition, Gambhir doesn’t hang around. He can match him for every stroke. Their running between the wickets is a fantastic sight for any cricket lover. The understanding they have developed is brilliant as there are times when they do not call; they just look at each other and judge the possibility of a run.

 

Sehwag plays only one way: If there is a ball in his zone, he would go for it with a 100% effort. On the other hand, Gambhir has the ability to pace his game according to the situation. He plays the brisk knocks but also grinds when the situation demands. The best example would be his match-saving hundred at Napier against New Zealand in 2009. It is a dynamic opening pair and it isn’t easy to plan strategies against them. When they are on song, even the well thought-out ploys would be plundered.

 

If India are to succeed in Australia, the Sehwag-Gambhir partnership would have a huge role to play. This is the best opening pair India have had in years and a lot would be expected off them on tough tours like Australia.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)