Gambhir-Sehwag duo back in hunt

At their best, the Virender Sehwag-Gautam Gambhir tandem is an association of equal parts, the bruising right-hander complemented by the silken, pocket-sized left-hander.

The success of the Sehwag-Gambhir combine has been one of the stand-out features in India’s march to the top spot in the ICC Test ratings, but the struggles of one half of the world’s most feared opening combination had transferred plenty of pressure on to the celebrated middle-order.

In his last ten innings, Gambhir had a highest of 25, four ducks and a grand tally of 86. The axe wasn’t exactly hovering over his head, but for his own sake as much as anything else, the feisty left-hander needed some runs under his belt.

The 29-year-old chose the first Test at the Rajiv Gandhi International stadium to make an opportune return to run-scoring ways in an innings that began hesistantly, but was just beginning to bloom when he was caught down the leg-side. By then, he had brought up his 12th half-century and associated himself in an eighth century stand with his great mate, who seemed more delighted than Gambhir himself when the latter nurdled Tim Southee to third-man to reach his fifty.

It’s amazing how fortunes can change dramatically in cricket in a short span of time. This time last year, Gambhir could do no wrong. The hundreds were coming with great regularity, all style and panache, but full of determination too, as in match-saving second-innings marathons in Napier and Ahmedabad (against Sri Lanka).

When India travelled to Bangladesh this January, Gambhir heralded the New Year with a century in Chittagong, and went to Mirpur poised to join Sir Don Bradman as the only men to score hundreds in six straight Tests. He was dismissed for 68 in Mirpur; since then, the well of runs had truly dried up until Saturday.

Understandably, almost predictably, Gambhir appeared a bundle of nerves at the start of his innings. He was flashy outside off, his footwork tentative, his head kept falling over as tried to work his bat around his front pad and play the ball on to the on-side. Every false shot brought Sehwag haring down the track for a quick joke, a small word of caution, a bigger word of encouragement. A wonderfully Gambhiresque drive through the covers off Southee, off his 49th delivery, drove Sehwag to raptures and elicited furious  love-punching. This was how it had been, how it should be.

Only Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook among active opening pairs have more runs as a partnership, but that tells only half the tale. In 57 innings, Sehwag and Gambhir have put on 3186 runs at 57.92, with eight hundred and 18 half-century stands. By contrast, 94 innings have yielded Strauss and Cook 3715 runs at 40.38, inclusive of 10 century and 15 half-century partnerships.

Gambhir’s return to form couldn’t have been more timely, given the challenges that lie ahead in South Africa next month. After all, well begun is half done, and India need to begin well through their openers against the Proteas if they aspire for their first series win there.

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