Gambhir takes the spotlight

SANJAY RAJAN

IT is not yet day, but it is no longer night in the cricketing life of Gautam Gambhir, the 20-year-old left-hander from Delhi.

Gautam Gambhir during his fine double hundred in Vijayawada.-N. BALAJI

And the innings that made the difference - it has brought him close to realising what is any young cricketer's dream - was the amazing double hundred for Board President's XI against Zimbabwe in the three-day tour opener which ended in a draw at the Indira Gandhi Municipal Corporation Stadium in Vijayawada on February 17.

He is the eighth batsman to score a double hundred against a visiting team on Indian soil outside of Test matches. He is preceded by J.G. Greig (204 for Bombay Presidency v Oxford Authentics at Bombay (Gym), 1902-03), Rusi Modi (203* for Indian XI v Australian Services at Madras, 1945-46), Lala Amarnath (223* for North Zone v West Indians at Patiala, 1948-49), Imtiaz Ahmed (300* for Prime Minister's XI v Commonwealth at Bombay (CCI), 1950-51), Sunil Gavaskar (203 for India XI v Sri Lanka XI at Hyderabad, 1975-76), Dilip Vengsarkar (200* for West Zone v England XI at Rajkot, 1984-85) and Sachin Tendulkar (204* for Mumbai v Australians at Mumbai (CCI), 1997-98).

Abhijit Kale is in a flamboyant mood in the Board President's XI's second essay. He made 90.-N. BALAJI

That he was not an automatic choice for the Test series against the visitor only goes to show the shortsightedness of the selectors, who, having acknowledged that he is "very promising with a good future," failed to notice that this would have been the ideal moment to blood the boy: what with the lad having just torn apart the attack. Nothing changes in Indian cricket, really.

Those of us who have followed Gambhir's blossoming career closely were never in doubt that the boy was gifted.

What stands out most about this left-hander is his appetite for runs and the capacity to play big innings. The 218 he struck against Stuart Carlisle's boys was his second successive double hundred this year in first class cricket, following his 214 against Indian Railways in the Ranji Trophy pre-quarterfinals.

He has two double hundreds to his credit at the junior level. One against Punjab in an inter-State game - the first time he ever opened - and the other against England Colts in an under-19 Test in Chennai in January 2001 when he (212) and Mumbai's Vinayak Mane (201) piled 391 for the opening wicket.

Andy Flower missed a hundred by six runs in Zimbabwe's innings.-N. BALAJI

His knock at Vijayawada, where he put the Zimbabwe attack to the sword after President's XI opted to bat, displayed his powers of concentration (he batted for 405 minutes) as well as his ability to accumulate runs at a fast clip.

Quick to put the loose balls away, he is a proactive batsman who picks up runs off good deliveries also. For that matter, he got those runs from 284 balls (40x4).

The Zimbabweans had to really toil on the field, with the home team running up 361 for three at close on day one.

A II year B.A. student of Hindu College, Gambhir, who was in the National Cricket Academy junior camp some time ago, put on 87 with Gagan Khoda for the opening wicket, 175 with skipper Rahul Dravid for the second and 94 with Abhijit Kale for the next, before he was overcome by exhaustion and played a chancy stroke, four overs before close.

The only other indiscreet stroke he had played was early in his innings, when, driving away from his body, he edged behind a no-ball from pacer Brighton Watambwa. But he showed the maturity not to repeat the mistake.

As Test vice-captain, Dravid has probably given India the psychological edge by restricting Zimbabwe to 340, after having declared the President's XI's first innings at the overnight score.

Amit Mishra was Board President's most successful bowler with six wickets.-N. BALAJI

The Zimbabwe attack went through the wringer for the second time when Maharashtra's Abhijit Kale (90, 12x4, 3x6), who was unbeaten on 40 in the first innings, and Orissa's P. Mullick (62 not out, 6x4, 2x6) tore them apart, adding 153 for the opening wicket. Each had a reprieve though.

Zimbabwe's gains from the match were that four of its batsmen, opener Trevor Gripper, left-handers Gavin Rennie and Andy Flower, and Travis Friend, made half centuries while Stuart Carlisle and southpaw Alistair Campbell batted long enough to get a feel of the conditions. The bowlers though went through a nightmare. The newcomers have obviously learnt that playing in India is a different cup of tea altogether.

Young leg-spinner Amit Mishra's potential came into prominence in this contest. The Haryana spinner mixed and matched his leg-breaks and googlies to finish with a six-wicket haul. Test off-spinner Sarandeep Singh, who also gained purchase, bowled intelligently.

Mishra is a game trier and has variations. The huge leg-break that he bowled to Campbell, which darted back from well outside the off-stump and hit the leg and middle stumps, even as the batsman shouldered arms, still lingers in one's memory. With some fine-tuning, he is certain to go far.

The scores:

Board President's XI 361 for three decl. (Gautam Gambhir 218, Gagan Khoda 41, Rahul Dravid 50, Abhijit Kale 40 not out, Raymond Price two for 102) & 154 for one (P. Mullick 62 not out, Abhijit Kale 90) drew with Zimbabwe 340 (Trevor Gripper 52, Gavin Rennie 52, Andy Flower 94, Travis Friend 52, Sarandeep Singh three for 81, Amit Mishra six for 94).