Gambhir happy to have an uninterrupted run in Tests
After a second successive century partnership from Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, New Zealand would have been delighted to get rid of both before they inflicted excessive damage on the scoreboard. It's small consolation, though, that the duo that has replaced them forms the second-most prolific pairing in the history of the game.
When Rahul Dravid cut what turned out to be the last ball of the day for a single, it marked the 19th century partnership that he and Sachin Tendulkar have shared in 14 years of batting together. Another 201 runs and they will overhaul the old Caribbean firm of Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, setting a benchmark that may only be threatened by the Sri Lankan duo of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
Both men barely extended themselves in a final session that was a throwback to old-style Test cricket; periods of watchful defence interspersed with the odd breathtaking drive or cut for four. New Zealand's bowlers weren't unduly threatening, but they bowled to a plan and were once again backed up by exceptional fielding that must have saved at least 40 runs.
Tim Southee and the debutant, Andy McKay, tested Tendulkar with quite a few short deliveries, while Daniel Vettori wheeled away in the strike-stock bowler role that Anil Kumble filled for India for so long. But for all the discipline and effort in the field, New Zealand are already 99 behind and left to contemplate the mountain-climb that their pathetic first-innings batting has left them with.
With three days left to play, Gambhir was confident that India could do what they were unable to in Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. "It's a slow wicket and the way it was turning on the first day, I think it will deteriorate," he said. "If we have a 300-run lead on this wicket, then we have a good chance with two quality spinners in our side."
After a wretched run for much of 2010 - he didn't cross 25 in nine innings - Gambhir's return to form has been the biggest batting positive as India start to turn their eyes towards the tour of South Africa. "I didn't play much cricket at one go," he said after the day's play. "After the Asia Cup, I played one Test [Galle] and got injured. Then I played another match [Mohali] and got injured. I didn't have match practice or runs. Playing continuously would have helped. I always thought if I can play three or four Tests in a row, that would help and that's what has happened."
It helps too that he bats opposite Sehwag, who takes the opposition's bowling plan, shreds it and then scatters the confetti into the wind. "He is an impact player," said Gambhir. "The way he sets the run-rate and plays the same way in all three formats of the game; I don't think there are many players in the world like that. I don't see anyone matching him. He attacks from the word go, which is something I haven't seen in Test cricket."
Once again, Sehwag sailed along at a run-a-ball, allowing everyone else to play at their own pace. Having batted with him while he was struggling, Gambhir attributed some of the credit for the turnaround in his form to his partner. "When you are not among the runs it is always difficult to bat with anyone," he said. "You need to score runs to be confident. In Hyderabad, the kind of confidence he gave me throughout my innings and in every over was tremendous and I'm thankful to him."
Any satisfaction at having batted fluently was tempered, though, by the awareness that both he and Sehwag failed to cash in on starts, just as they had in the previous game. "It's very disappointing because as opening batsmen, we both feel that once you get settled, you have to get as many runs as possible," he said. "The new ball is definitely a challenge, and an opportunity as well. I'm very disappointed that neither of us could go on and make a hundred. Hopefully, we will in South Africa."
Surviving the new ball had been Gambhir's biggest problem in recent times. "I've had three ducks in the second innings this year," he said. "As an international cricketer, it keeps getting into your mind. I kept telling myself that it is not about one over, it is about each and every ball. Six balls are a lot of balls when you're not in good form."
The knee injury that went hand-in-hand with his batting slump could continue to bother Gambhir though, especially since he admits that the team doesn't really have another fielder who can crouch down low close to the bat for hours on end. "At one point, it used to bother me a lot," he said. "It was a pretty serious injury and standing at forward short leg for one-and-half days hardly gives your body time to recover. It is a bit of a concern but at the same time the combination of the team is such."
Given the position that India are in now though, he may just be able to give those knees a well-deserved rest on Monday.