Gambhir's masterly hundred

Gautam Gambhir has been through the rough road. His shot-making ability was never in question, shot selection was. He has taken the hard knocks, spent frustrating time on the sidelines. Now, he is moving from the periphery to the centre-stage. His unbeaten 102 against Sri Lanka at the ’Gabba was an effort of a batsman growing in confidence.

“It has always been my dream to play and get runs in Australia. Batsmen are judged on the basis of their performances in conditions like this,” said a pleased Gambhir after the contest.

The second match of the CB series was washed out as well with rain preventing Sri Lanka from resuming after India finished at 267 for four. Both teams took two points from the contest.

It was also a day when Sachin Tendulkar went past 16,000 runs in the ODIs. Gambhir called the maestro, “the greatest batsman in Indian cricket.”

The good thing about Gambhir’s approach is that he realises his flaws and is willing to improve. In other words, his cricket is not streaked with arrogance.

He concedes he needs to play closer to the body, “You don’t want to get out hanging your bat out,” he says. Gambhir did that when he was on 10, off Ishara Amerasinghe but ’keeper Kumar Sangakkara put down the catch.

That indiscretion apart, it was an innings of responsibility and strokeplay from Gambhir. He used his feet and found the gaps. The left-hander is reading the situations better these days and runs are flowing in either direction. He is a quick-footed, quick-thinking batsman who can disrupt the rhythm of a bowler. He lacks in height, but not flair.

The captaincy of Delhi has helped Gambhir grow as a cricketer. While skippering Delhi to Ranji Trophy triumph, the southpaw made runs under stressful situations. “I probably took some confidence out of those innings,” said Gambhir.

He handled a crisis situation well at the ’Gabba. India lost its way again losing four wickets for 83 but the left-right combination of Gambhir and Dhoni rebuilt the innings with caution and aggression.

Skipper Dhoni displayed much fight, showed he could change his game according to the situation. He began with pushes and nudges before exploding into bigger strokes in the final stages. His 95-ball 88 not out was a well-paced effort.

The captain’s presence was a positive influence on Gambhir. He smote fast bowler Lasith Malinga over long-off for a six, and handled Muttiah Muralitharan in a pressure situation with subtlety and craft.

Whether dancing down the track or staying back and waiting for the ball to spin, Gambhir was decisive in his footwork. The southpaw forced Muralitharan to think about his line by using the sweep effectively. Against a left-hander, Muralitharan could not bring into play the off-spin-doosra combination.

The Lankans erred by omitting all-rounder Farvez Maharoof, a useful seam and swing bowler. His variations of pace and movement could have given Sri Lanka more options at the Death where the side clearly lost the initiative.

The mandatory change of the ball after the 34th over favoured the batsmen. Malinga could not achieve reverse swing and the harder ball travelled quicker off the bat.

Earlier, a well-set Tendulkar dragged a Malinga delivery to his stumps and Virender Sehwag under-edged a pull off Amerasinghe to the ’keeper. Someone with loads of experience in Lankan first class cricket, Amerasinghe hit the deck, generated pace and bowled with impressive control.

After Sehwag’s departure, Muralitharan struck twice in succession.

The out-of-form Yuvraj Singh, lacking footwork and confidence, was pouched at slip as he essayed a front-foot drive without getting to the pitch of the ball.

Rohit Sharma, though, was luckless to be adjudged caught behind by umpire Rudi Koertzen as Murali spun one away from the right-hander. Subsequently, the batsman was fined 10 per cent of his match fee for a level 1.3 offence.

Sangakkara, who had appealed forcefully from behind the stumps, spoke about respecting the umping decisions. He also dwelt on retaining the human element in cricket.

This once again leads us to a great umpiring debate.

The scores: (Brisbane Cricket Ground, February 5. Match washed out).

India: V. Sehwag c Sangakkara b Amerasinghe 33; S. R. Tendulkar b Malinga 35; G. Gambhir (not out) 102; Yuvraj Singh c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 2; R. G. Sharma c Sangakkara b Muralitharan 0; M. S. Dhoni (not out) 88; Extras (lb 3, w 4) 7;Total (four wkts in 50 overs) 267.

Fall of wickets: 1-68, 2-80, 3-83, 4-83.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 10-0-72-0; Malinga 10-1-56-1; Amerasinghe 10-2-30-1; Muralitharan 10-0-51-2; Kapugedera 6-0-23-0; Dilshan 1-0-8-0; Jayasuriya 3-0-24-0.

S. Dinakar