Game for a fight

Gautam Gambhir.-PTI

Gautam Gambhir's chutzpah when Sangakkara blocked the off side with point, backward point, cover and, on occasions, a short cover as the three off-spinners dropped the ball around the off stump mirrored the batsman's resolve. He is truly one of the fiercest competitors in the Indian team. By G. Viswanath.

Summoned to meet the challenge thrown down by the energetic and jubilant Lasith Malinga — who had just dismissed Virender Sehwag — in the third ball of India's run chase of 275, Gautam Gambir chose a riposte he appeared perfectly poised for. The left-hander, with his sharp pair of eyes and supple wrists, directed the ball to the square-leg picket.

One of the fiercest competitors in the Indian team, Gambhir announced his arrival at the crease with a positive start. He did not need anyone to calm his nerves, but Sachin Tendulkar chatted with his new partner a few times. Perhaps he talked to Gambhir about how to deal with Malinga, whose unorthodox action has always been tough for the batsmen to read.

The crowd at the Wankhede Stadium fell into an eerie silence as Malinga invited Tendulkar to drive and wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara caught the resultant edge. From here (the second ball of the seventh over and India 31 for 2) the responsibility of guiding India through fell on Gambhir and young Virat Kohli.

Introduced late in the competition in which he had figures of 6 for 38 including a hat-trick against Kenya, Malinga received all attention from the medical and training staff to keep him at the peak of his fitness for the big occasion.

The Sri Lankan fast bowler virtually seized the moment by dismissing Sehwag and Tendulkar very early, but then he knew there were quite a few hurdles to be overcome for his team to finish on the winning side. Most importantly, Malinga has not once dismissed Gambhir, so he would have attempted to work out a strategy with his captain to get the stoical left-hander out. The major threat, though, was expected to come from Nuwan Kulasekara, Muttiah Muralitharan and Thisara Perera. In his previous 27 matches against Sri Lanka, Gambhir had fallen to Kulasekara six times, Muralitharan thrice and Perera twice.

The discerning in the press box, including a senior columnist, were surprised by the four changes effected by Sangakkara. The Sri Lankan think-tank had obviously done its homework and the success of Kulasekara and Perera against India must have weighed heavily in their favour.

The duel between Gambhir and Malinga & Co. was engaging, but the Indian won the contest with his stout defence. The Indian also did not waste any opportunity to score. As a result, 81 runs were posted in the mandatory and bowling powerplay overs.

Gambhir's chutzpah when Sangakkara blocked the off side with point, backward point, cover and, on occasions, a short cover as the three off-spinners dropped the ball around the off stump mirrored the batsman's resolve. Once though Gambhir made the mistake of lifting the ball, but Kulasekara missed the catch.

Another crucial factor in Gambhir's show of defiance was the presence of his Delhi team-mate Kohli.

Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni's arrival in the 22nd over helped Gambhir to extend his tenure in the middle (three hours and seven minutes). It was without doubt an outstanding performance that eventually led India to a memorable victory.

Gambhir, who made his ODI debut against Bangladesh in April 2000, has played 114 matches and scored 4073 runs at 40.73 with a success percentage of 64.04. Against Sri Lanka, he has scored 1127 runs with four centuries and five half centuries.

Dhoni said that Gambhir has to blame himself for playing a wild shot and missing out on a World Cup final century. A tally of 393 runs in nine matches, with scores of 39, 51, 10, 28, 69, 22, 50, 27 and 97, may not exactly be flattering, but he would always remember his innings in the final. It was a selfless effort that brought India the big prize.

Incidentally, ever since he regained his place in the Indian team in 2007, Gambhir has been consistent, making his wicket count. He garnered 634 runs in 2007, 1119 in 2008, 848 in 2009 and 670 in 2010.

It would take some time before Gambhir gets a chance to revert to the opening slot where he has scored 2508 runs as against 1504 at No. 3. He may not be as stylish as Salim Durrani or Ajit Wadekar, but Gambhir has the ability to defend, and strike the big blows. These skills should take him a long way in his career.