Australia tour, litmus test Gambhir
It`s a law of diminishing returns for the left-hander who struck his last century 17 Test ago and averages 32.75 and 31.33 in the last two years. That the solitary century was against lowly Bangladesh does not help his cause either.
A fearless cricketer, usually adept at both front and back foot, against pace and spin, Gambhir first stamped his presence in the Indian set-up with a one-day century-at Gabba in Brisbane-on these very shores four years ago.
He virtually took wings thereafter, striking three centuries and 1134 runs from eight Tests in 2008. He did even better in 2009 when he slammed four centuries from five Tests and averaged 90.88 from the year.
So impressive was the little lad from Delhi that his partner and senior Virender Sehwag was moved enough to term him the best opener of India since Sunil Gavaskar hung his boots in 1987.
"Gambhir is the only opener I have known who is at ease in any form of the game. Gavaskar was a great opener in Tests and one-dayers and Gambhir has adapted wonderfully to the Twenty20 format too. He is just too good," Sehwag had said.
"Just see how he kept adapting. I can`t think of anyone better than Gambhir in terms of technique, temperament and style. To me, he is the best opener India has had since Gavaskar," said Sehwag.
Rewards were swift to come as Gambhir shot up on the scales of being next captain and was the highest paid cricketer, worth Rs 11 crore, in this year`s IPL.
Gambhir`s dip in form was pushed into the background because he still was able to play a few innings of extreme significance-like the 93 and 64 he made at Newlands early this year. His 97 in the World Cup finals made him the darling of Indian fans and his consistent failures somehow did not quite register in the eyes of the same fans or media.
However, with India consistently losing its foothold on foreign soil and Gambhir coming a cropper, the current tour could be a make-or-break one for the likeable young man.
Gambhir averaged 17.00 from the three Tests he played in England-albeit there was a head injury which impeded his cause-and his three and 13 at the MCG now has not helped his cause. That he could average only 39.00 at home against the West Indies in between is a cause for worry.
As of now, Gambhir is a sure starter for second Test starting in Sydney on January 3 and Dhoni`s public posturing is in support of the left-handed opener. "He`s someone who is batting really well in the nets. He just needs to take that extra step and do the same thing into the middle. Once you play 30-40 deliveries as an opener, everything is sorted out," Dhoni said.
A sensitive man, Gambhir`s failures appear to have affected him as a person. Never a very outgoing person in public, Gambhir appears to have withdrawn further into his shell and now has a slinking presence at nets or in the field.
India needs Gambhir and Sehwag to strike in Sydney. That famous middle order usually needs that start to come on to their own. There are not many instances, especially abroad, when the famous Delhi pair of openers have collectively failed and the middle order has been able to repair the damage.
In a way success of the opening duo is inter-linked and so is the success of team putting runs in excess of 300 runs which is absolutely critical if India is to recover lost ground in the ongoing series.