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Gautam Gambhir scored 29 in the Indore Test. (Courtesy: Getty Images)

‘Itni shiddat se maine tumhe paane ki koshish ki hai … ki har zarre ne mujhe tumse milane ki saazish ki hai (It is saying that if you really desire something from the heart … then the whole universe will work towards getting you that). I cannot help but quote Gautam Gambhir’s Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) team owner Shah Rukh Khan’s dialogue from the 2007-film Om Shanti Om and relate it to his Test comeback. We will come back to that. Live cricket scorecard: India vs New Zealand, 3rd Test

The chants of ‘Gambhir-Gambhir’ got louder as the Indian openers made their way to the middle in the historic Test at Indore. Yes, there was chants and screams despite it being a Test hosted in India where interests level for this format has taken a beating. A big moment here, Indore, a city that has produced some of country’s top cricketers, including its first Test captain Col. CK Nayudu, is hosting its first-ever Test. Another momentous occasion in this series. Kanpur was India’s 500th Test, Kolkata the 250th at home and this is Indore’s first. Amidst the hullaballoo, Gambhir, once India’s finest, walked out to salvage his Test career. He has led KKR to two Indian Premier League (IPL) titles, played crucial roles in India’s two World Cup wins but 56 Tests is no justice to a cricketer, who is considered one of India’s finest openers.

New Zealand are a side who do not make a lot of buzz. Unlike England or Australia, the tourists from southern hemisphere are a low-profile side despite their reputation to be highly competitive. However, at their backyard they are a difficult side to conquer. India had a torrid tour in 2002-03 and even in 20013-14, the MS Dhoni-led side went on to lose the Test and One-Day International (ODI) series, failing to register a single victory. India’ glory moments in New Zealand came in 2009 courtesy Gambhir. India won their first-ever Test series in New Zealand in 41 years. Gambhir mixed caution with aggression, amassing 445 runs at 89.

Once Team India’s best batsman, who could do no wrong, Gambhir was out in the centre to play one of play one of his most important Tests in his career. Probably his last, if not then this Test can be the renaissance of his Test career. A circle turns full for the talented southpaw as captain Virat Kohli throws him a lifejacket against the visiting New Zealand side.

The comeback drama

“Excitement of a debutant, certainty of experienced, nervousness of a novice…am feeling it all. Eden here I come loaded with ambitions,” Gambhir tweeted when selectors announced him as KL Rahul’s replacement after the Karnataka opener was ruled out of the series due to a hamstring injury.

Coming back to SRK’s dialgoue, Gambhir’s return to the Indian side after two years has been dramatic. When the Sandeep Patil-led selection committee sat down for its last assignment, choosing the side for the India-New Zealand Test series, there were speculations that Gambhir would make the cut on basis of his Duleep Trophy form. That did not happen. Gambhir follows an immense fan following and therefore there were disappointments followed by curses but it seemed the approach was clear that India were not looking back.

Rahul suffered a hamstring injury after first Test and Gambhir was drafted in. Ahead of the Eden Gardens’ Test, there were speculations: will it be Gambhir or his fellow Delhiite and southpaw Shikhar Dhawan who will feature in the XI? Kohli doused off the suspense at toss when he said named Dhawan as the “natural replacement”.

Two failures from Dhawan would still not mean that the doors had opened for Gambhir. The uncertainty loomed but in the second innings of the Kolkata Test, Dhawan received two blows on his thumb from Boult that led to a minor fracture. The gates opened. It meant Gambhir would play the 3rd Test. Here he was.

The return

Gambhir’s Test career has two parts to it: one that resembles the legendary Jack Hobbs and the other, promising yet disappointing Martin Guptill. Many will want to kill me for putting these two in the same line in Test cricket but that has been Gambhir’s tale.

First 50 innings

Runs

Ave

100s

50s

2,692

57.28

9

10

 

Last 50 innings

Runs

Ave

100s

50s

1,354

28.21

0

11

 

He worked with Justin Langer at Perth and altered his technique. He now has more open stance and it was visible that he was at ease when playing fast bowlers. In style, he got off the mark when he cut a short-and-wide delivery from Matt Henry through the deep point region. He looked sure of his off-stump and New Zealand skipper decided to retort with short-ball technique.

Gambhir hoisted Henry over square-leg for a six. It was only the fourth over of the Test match. It did not end here, another bouncer and this time he pulled it in the long-leg region for another six. Gambhir made his intentions clear. Since 2002 in Test cricket, he became the third batsman after Michael Vaughan and Chris Gayle to have registered two sixes in the first five overs of a Test. Commentators, in Hindi or English, heaped praises on the southpaw and Indore was witnessing the madness.

Be it his assurance against the pacers or the roll of wrists or back-foot punches off the spinners, Gambhir looked at ease. The social media went buzz on a Saturday morning of the festive season. That is what big players do and Gambhir is one.

Trent Boult, Gambhir’s old nemesis, came in for a spell few overs before lunch. He pitched one on good-length, got it to move in, beat Gambhir’s bat as it thudded to his back pad. He was caught plumb in the front. Gambhir’s stay lasted 53 balls, he crafted 29, which will be remembered. It was the third time in his career that he had fallen to Boult.

The first session of the play was all about Gambhir. If India end up piling up a lot of runs and bat once in this Test, we may not see Gambhir in the upcoming Tests or maybe ever in Test cricket. But the ones who witnessed the 29 would have seen glimpses of the old Gambhir returning to action. In 6 days, he will be 35 and usually batsmen drag it longer.

Gambhir was destined to play this Test. He provided fans ‘moments’; he won them but the larger battle was lost. He failed to make an impact, a big score.

If a chance comes his way in the second innings, good. If not we do not know what happens to him when England arrives onshore. All we know is: a warrior he is, he will keep on battling, be it First-Class, Tests or IPL. The ‘moments’ were worth it.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer, strategist, entrepreneur, philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)