India look for Gambhir spark

With Dhoni's men struggling, opener has to fire in final Test at The Oval

India look for Gambhir spark

 Standing alone at the far corner of the nets on a sun-drenched Wednesday, Gautam Gambhir went almost unnoticed.

Gambhir’s turn to bat came after the stint of R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Stuart Binny. Gone are the days when he and Virender Sehwag occupied the nets for a contrasting session – Gambhir intense and focused, Sehwag all humour and laughter. There was no dearth of intensity in Gambhir at the Oval.

But the struggle too was obvious. Varun Aaron, Ishant Sharma and Ishwar Pandey aimed constantly at his rib cage. The left-hander hopped around the crease uncomfortably on a few occasions, and as is his wont, fended a few deliveries to leg-side and edged a few others to either slip or gully.

It was reminiscent of his effort in the return Test in Manchester, falling to bounce in both innings. In the first innings he edged Stuart Broad to gully, failing to negotiate the extra bounce, while he edged James Anderson to Jos Buttler in the second innings. It was a loopy leg-side bouncer but the left-hander couldn’t judge the path of the ball correctly.

Precisely, those ills have charted his ouster from the team in 2012 after the third Test against England at Nagpur. The dab down the third man has been one of his favoured shots but also has led to his downfall more than once. At Old Trafford, fielding coach Trevor Penny worked hard with Gambhir, telling him to use a straight blade rather than an angled one while facing short-pitched balls.

Cut to the Oval, Gambhir batted nearly 30 minutes at nets, mostly trying to fortify his technique to his short-pitched balls. The only time he seemed to be at ease was while batting against spinners. Gambhir moved his feet well against Ashwin and Jadeja, at times smashing the duo comfortably over imaginary fielders at cover and long off.

The session pointed to another chance for Gambhir, and the fifth Test against England, beginning on Friday, is massively significant for him. India are due to play a home series against the West Indies before travelling to Australia later this year for a four-Test series that culminates some three months after with the World Cup.

India will need a back-up opener for the long road ahead for Shikhar Dhawan still has not cemented his place despite a bright beginning and occasional sparks. Gambhir needs a good outing here to keep himself in the reckoning, and a failure over the next five days could see his time running out once and forever.

It is certainly not a pleasant situation to be in from a sportsperson’s perspective. It’s hard for him to accept that the eventual outcome of years of hard work now depends on one match or on a few days.

However, Gambhir is a feisty character too, and adversity often brings the best out of him. The little Delhi man displayed his iron-willed side while notching up a match saving hundred at Napier in 2009 against New Zealand.

Now, Gambhir needs to recapture his gutsy spirit before the last light too burns out.
Ishant impresses

Indians might be a disheartened bunch after squandering a 1-0 lead that built around a fine triumph at Lord’s. Since then, they had lost at Southampton and Manchester to trail 1-2, and their below par bowling a big concern.

Ishant Sharma’s absence has been a heavy blow as the Delhi pacer, who destroyed England at Lord’s with a seven-wicket haul, was sidelined with a sore leg.

However, India received a positive signal in his case on this day, with Ishant bowling at full tilt for nearly half an hour. In all likelihood, the pacer will come in for Pankaj Singh. Meanwhile, Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni skipped the net session for a visit to the nearby firing range.

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