India A v West Indies A, 3rd unofficial Test, Hubli, 1st day October 8, 2013

Intense Gambhir searches for way back

Becoming obsessed has been the Gambhir way of dealing with failure, and that has been evident in his attempts to make a national comeback

Two days before the start of this match, the local organisers in Hubli call up the local press for a briefing. In an earnest tone, they say this is a "momentous occasion" for Hubli. You look outside, and kids have taken a day off from school, and are cashing in on the rare opportunity of taking autographs of the big stars. Volunteers around them are busy readying the ground. The scenes could be from a wedding in India with everyone running helter skelter for last-minute preparations.

You wonder what Gautam Gambhir thinks of all that is going around. Of what this game means to the locals and what this means to him. For if you look further out, you see him batting in the nets. He has faced up to the quicks, he has seen the spinners, he has taken the throwdowns from fielding coach Abhay Sharma, but he is not done yet.

Batting is all you have seen Gambhir do since he arrived in Shimoga for the previous four-day match against West Indies A. Batting is all you have seen Gambhir talk. With Sharma, with coach Lalchand Rajput, with Cheteshwar Pujara. With Sharma he seems to be working on the backlift and the position of the upper body as he prepares to face the delivery, with Rajput head position, and with Pujara the width of the stance and some more backlift.

Sharma has been giving Gambhir throwdowns, with Rajput he just seems to be talking for long periods. Pujara seems to be telling him what he makes of different backlifts and different stances. It seems that in his head Gambhir has been batting even when it is not his turn. Even in the field in Shimoga he kept shadow-practising. He would also ask the opposition batsmen for their bat during a break, and practise the swing. After he was dismissed, he spent the next morning in the nets.

There is something obsessive about what Gambhir has been doing. Knowing whatever we knew of him until the dip in the form over the last two years, it sounds about right. "I would love to go easy, because it [being hard on yourself] exhausts you," he once told ESPNcricinfo. "You stop enjoying. You don't play your natural game. You are only looking to score at any cost. But that's the way I have been brought up. Can't help it."

Gambhir has always been intense and hard on himself, an attribute that, at least in public discourse, had left him over the last two-three years. You can imagine the struggle inside his head now. Since being dropped, he has had a stint with a personal coach, WV Raman, he has had a county stint - he went back even after a personal tragedy brought him to India - and now in nondescript towns and strange grounds he is trying to make the most of a lucky break that has come his way.

What makes it tougher is, Gambhir is almost rediscovering his game. In Shimoga, he had a bigger back lift in the match, and a smaller one in the nets. He seems to be experimenting with the stance in the nets. It is almost like a fast bowler bowling no-balls on his return from a long break from cricket.

When Gambhir batted in the middle, he was tied down on a flat and slow pitch. You could sense he was telling himself to not drive away from the body or even play that dab to third man, but occasionally he did drive, once getting caught off a no-ball. Against spin he seemed to back himself, but that assuredness wasn't all there. Invariably, when you are out of form, all it takes is a little hesitation or a little over-eagerness, and the mis-hit goes to hand.

Then Gambhir walked back shaking his head all the way up the pavilion steps. So many hours in the nets, so far away from home, and off in 70 minutes. Around him he must see friend and former opening partner, Virender Sehwag, not being as hard on himself, playing with the crowds, even though he has been through just as rough a patch.

Long ago, when Gambhir was making his comeback into the Indian side - there had been times before that when he didn't want to play anymore - Sehwag had advice for him. In New Zealand, in 2008-09, Gambhir says Sehwag told him: try and think about god, try and take your mind off for a bit. It isn't a lesson in theism; it is about relaxing so that you can play your natural game.

You wonder if Gambhir thinks of that advice now. Even if he does, it is unlikely to work because becoming obsessed has been the Gambhir way of dealing with failure. Right now he is trying to get both his technique and his mind in order, but the consolation is that he has done it before.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Swapnil on October 10, 2013, 10:09 GMT

    Fantastic Century my favourite lefty.123 0f 236 balls with 11 fours.its fantastic! You truly deserved it after all your hard work. Don't give up you and Virender Sehwag have a very good chance of making a comeback into the squad. Just keep on working harder and you caan do it because nothing is immpossible. I it is immpossible for Rohit Sharma to last much longer as an opener as will get tired as he is very lazy. Keep fighting, score tons in the Ranji trophy and you will get your reward very soon. Same to my favourite right- handed batsman Virender Sehwag.Best of luck and shut up your critics and get back that opening slot.

  • Diwakar on October 9, 2013, 11:35 GMT

    Gautam Gambhir belongs to that era and breed of cricketers who are tigers in limited overs / club cricket and who get exposed against quality bowling. In these days of multiple games and too frequent tours, players are being dubbed 'great' without actually having had to face some genuine pace bowling or on seaming wickets and high quality spin. It may be sounding harsh, but lets accept the fact that GG is an also ran in Indian cricket who had his share of limelight which was enhanced during his captaincy days with KKR.

  • Naresh on October 9, 2013, 10:01 GMT

    Gambhir can gain confidence only by playing Indian domestic. Build from this point on. He needs to score big and work on his shortcomings like some fans have pointed out here (short ball) The County stint should have come after domestic. Also fans pointing out about his self-denial - this is TRUE. One player who I would like to see is Juneja and also Rahane has done a lot of hard work.

  • Sriram on October 9, 2013, 8:29 GMT

    Gauti can take some solace that he is still wanted although with some runs behind him in the domestic scene. Vijay, Dhawan won't surely last all tests from now with Windies till Aus later next year. There has to be a 3rd opener in the scene and may be even fourth. I alread see Pujara being pushed to that slot as selectors want Kholi to be the No.3. Either it will work for Pujara or he might go the Laxman way to middle order. So, that leaves only the 1 season wonders of Jiwanjot, Jagdeesh and a few more. The likes of tried and tested Jaffer or Mukund may have to wait. In case of Jaffer probably its all over coz he can't feild or run though can bat. If only GG can let his bat do the talking!!

  • Aakash on October 9, 2013, 8:28 GMT

    Gambhir was one of the grittiest players in world cricket. Somehow after the WC win, that deserted him. But in adversity he seems to have found that grit back. I am certain he will make it back to the opening slot.

  • Shiv on October 8, 2013, 21:03 GMT

    Hard work always pays. If whatever is written in this article is true, he will be back.

  • Sandy on October 8, 2013, 17:53 GMT

    Too many holes in his tecnique! Good against spin no doubt, but cant play the moving ball or the short quick one. People rave about that innings in napier in 2009. But that series were played on the flattest of wickets NZ has ever produced, and the bowlers were 130 kmph medium pacers. Good primarily on flat tracks and in T20s.

  • Dummy4 on October 8, 2013, 17:47 GMT

    Think Gambhir has to go back to his tested ways, though that might mean going too hard on himself. in the last couple of years up to his dropping, He has lived in denial, suggesting the 20s and 30s and 40s were important contributions that he was making to the team rather than an wasted start that could do a lot of harm to the team. He seemed pretty much settled and got into a zone of far too much comfort. I think it will be very difficult for Virender Sehwag to make a comeback and I'd never have him in a middle order role at this stage of his career, but I still have hopes for Gambhir. But to find his way back, Gauti has to score big, Daddy hundreds and many of them.

  • Ashok on October 8, 2013, 17:30 GMT

    Its high time Gambhir clicks and find some form and confidence, else he could be the next Kambli in Indian cricket.

  • Ivan on October 8, 2013, 17:16 GMT

    Gautam - take it easy. I used to be a lot like you as a kid. Played Under 15 and Under 19 for my state. Was considered a promising opening batsman. But I put too much pressure on myself and would be hard on myself even when I succeeded. I was very consistent - always getting 50's but the hundred's were rare (usually are for kids) but by being hard on myself I wouldn't enjoy the success. Not the right way - batting is a one ball game - once in an inter state match i was out first ball and in the second innings I was demoted and never got to bat. That match was the highlight of my season and as a specialist opening batsman I lasted 1 ball against Karnataka. Stuff like that happens. Does not make you a bad player. Remember one thing - if your career ended today you'd still be remembered as a a) terrific player of spin b) a fighter - that hundred against NZ was excellent as was the double against Australia c) someone who did well on the big occasion - 98 in WC finals. Relax. Life is good.

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