Gritty Gambhir all set for 2nd innings

India opener excited to be back after a two-year vacuum in the international setup

It was back in August 2014 that Gautam Gambhir last played a Test for India. It was against England at the Oval and his scores were 0 and 3 in that Test. Post that Test, Gambhir was dropped from the Test squad and there was almost like a vacuum in the international scene for the left-handed opener. Gambhir though continued to lead his IPL franchise and got back to the riguours of domestic cricket. Time and again after a good knock for his respective teams, he would be asked about an international comeback and whether he was eyeing one soon. Gambhir, the team player would brush aside talks of comebacks and would assert the fact of putting his side ahead of individual interests.

Now, with some meaningful performances in the recently concluded Duleep Trophy, Gambhir caught the eye of the selectors making a comeback of sorts after two years. This, after opener KL Rahul was ruled out of the remainder of the Test series against New Zealand owing to an injured hamstring. Gambhir joined the team and looked comfortable with the rest of the squad during India’s practice sessions on the eve of the 2nd Test.

There were a few chats with players who he had played with in the past; shared some light moments and some discussions with coach Anil Kumble and batting coach Sanjay Bangar after his stint at the nets. Whether he will make it to the eleven on Friday is yet to be seen, but getting back to the India setup was a matter of pride and an ‘unbelievable feeling’ as he puts it, though not shying away from the fact that there are a few nerves to be calmed down.

“It’s a feeling of being nervous, it’s a feeling of being excited as well,” Gambhir told BCCI.TV. “Obviously whenever you get to represent your country, especially in Test cricket, the most important format of the game, it is very exciting. Very few people get to play with the blue cap on and for me to get that chance one more time is an unbelievable feeling.”

But what is natural to feel nervous for someone who has played international cricket for such a long time? “I think that is going to happen with everyone,” he said. “Whether you play a hundred Test matches or you have played one Test match, when you approach a Test match you are nervous. During the start of a Test match, there are bound to be butterflies and it is good to have them. The important thing here is how much you can control your emotions. As an opening batsman, I have always felt at the start of day 1 if you go in first, you will always have nerves but they will eventually settle down the more time you spend time in the middle. It is not that someone being experienced won’t be nervous, everyone feels that and it is good.”

It might be a good feeling to have now that he is back in the mix, but Gambhir was of the view that the road to this has not been very easy. He had to channelise his thoughts and introspect on the mental side of his game rather than getting into batting technicalities. It was more about self belief and confidence according to Gambhir. “I have made a few technical changes over the past two years but mostly it was more mental. It was more about trying to get all your doubts out of the system which is very important. For someone who has been playing international cricket for a very long time, you have certain kind of targets set for yourself, and then when you are not doing really the way you should be doing; doubts start creeping in. When you go away from the game and are not part of the international side, you need to negate all those doubts and comeback having more belief in your game.”

That he did as he piled on 356 runs in the recently concluded Duleep Trophy scoring briskly with four half centuries missing out on worth tons. But never once were his performances in the tournament a mode for an international comeback according to Gambhir. “Honestly, I was not thinking of a comeback even when I was getting runs in the Duleep Trophy. My reasons of playing cricket are very different. I have always believed that whichever team I represent; be it the Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL or Delhi in the Ranji Trophy or playing for a side in the Duleep trophy, I as an individual have a job and responsibility to go and contribute for the team’s success.

“I just want to be a part of a winning dressing room and that is where the happiness is and that is what a happy dressing room is all about. Whenever you play a game of cricket, you want to get back to a happy dressing room. Even after Duleep Trophy the feeling was that we won the competition and not thinking or (was) too much worried about selection.”

Back to the grind, Gambhir was seen going through India’s regular training drills. He spent some time in the nets, looked comfortable with the rest of the team members and looked satisfied with his first day back in white flannels. “I loved my first day at the nets. I had great interactions with most of them. I have played a lot of cricket with most of these guys. Whenever you have runs behind your back, you always feel confident but Test cricket is a different ball game and it is more of a mental challenge than a technical challenge. Once the Test match starts, and you get into your groove, you will feel a lot better. The feeling in the nets is different to the feeling in the middle.”

Gambhir is eager to start afresh and with a clear mind. “I have set no targets at all. I am not setting too many targets. I am going to take each game at a time and try and win each game I am going to be a part of. That is what I play this game for. It is all about contributing to the team and winning a game of cricket. Most important thing in a team sport is winning the game irrespective of how individuals do. I have always maintained that individuals are only there to contribute. The team is doing well; hopefully we can seal the series in this game.” 

Anand Subramaniam
Anand Subramaniam

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Jayant Yadav keen to embark on learning curve

Off-spinner eager to make the most of stint with Indian Test team

Being an optional practice session, it wasn’t a full strength Indian team that hit the nets on a cloudy afternoon at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Captain Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan and Wriddhiman Saha were among the few who got a feel of the bat spending some time in the nets. Amit Mishra went through his bowling drills and had new entrant in the squad Jayant Yadav for company. Yadav was seen taking keen interest in the nets observing Mishra and having a bowl himself.

Though Yadav might not necessarily get a place in the eleven, he was sure that this stint with the team will do him a world of good. “The mood in the camp is pretty relaxed and I am relishing this stint with the Test team. I am looking forward to the first full practice session tomorrow and I am sure it is going to be exciting,” Yadav told
BCCI.TV.

Yadav is coming off a decent performance on India A's recent tour of Australia, picking up seven wickets in the unofficial Tests at an average of 22.57. More than the numbers, Yadav believed the Australia ‘A’ tour has taught him a lot. “I think Australia poses a different set of challenges as a spinner. Playing in the subcontinent and playing abroad is a different role altogether. For a finger spinner in Australia the margin for error is really less. Your roles change within the team and you have to adapt quickly.

“What I felt was the need for the finger spinner to vary the pace time and again. You have to be a bit quicker in the air in the subcontinent whereas in Australia you can utilise the bounce and bowl a bit slower. Over here you have to vary the pace with your stock ball and margin for error is more as compared to that in Australia. In those aspects, it was a great learning curve and a learning experience. My role as a spinner in Australia was different to a role to a spinner in India. You get to learn a lot and you have to take everything in your stride and keep learning and implementing the learning in your game.”

Talking about finger spinners, who better than Ravichandran Ashwin to have by your side to explain the nuances of spin bowling? Yadav was sure he would have a lot to talk about with him in the nets on Thursday. “I would want to observe his practice regimes, his preparations. Rather than getting into the technicalities I would want to know how he reads the batsmen and what is his mindset approaching certain situations which are essentially important in the Test level. I would want to know how he assesses the wickets, gauges the batsman, how he imparts a lot of spin on the ball and how he prepares for different wickets.”

When asked about what he particularly liked about Ashwin’s spin bowling he said, “On any sort of wicket, you have to be very consistent and obviously Ashwin has that ability to keep bowling in a same line for long periods of time. He tires the batsman down by bowling good balls and chipping away on their patience.”

Yadav was also seen closely chatting with coach Anil Kumble and together they were seen working on ‘finishing’ the action better as Yadav puts it, “We were just chatting about me finishing better. It is always important when you are working on a particular thing to go backwards - bowling with few steps so that you can focus more on what you are trying to work on. We were just talking about the non bowling arm and how I can finish better. It was just a simple drill. I will try and implicate that on the nets tomorrow.” 

Yadav was also confident he was in a good space at the moment and will look to improve from here on. “I had a good tour of Australia, the conditions were different but the ball is coming off my hand very nicely and I am bowling in the right areas and channels. Test cricket is all about you mental aptitude. It is a test of your character, courage and perseverance. Going forward, I want to learn as much as I can and impart them in my bowling.”

Anand Subramaniam

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