Aggressive Gambhir remains focused
"I don't think I need to get into this argument about Shane Watson. There was no chance he could have got me out." At the press conference, Gautam Gambhir spoke as emphatically as he played in making 149 not out - his second century in two innings against Australia - and one which put India in a commanding position on the first day of a Test where they can seal the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
It was the 51st over of the innings, and Gambhir had reached 65, when he had the altercation with Watson. Gambhir flicked Watson towards midwicket - his most productive shot today - and the bowler gesticulated and said something to Gambhir during the first run. While going back for the second, it appeared as if Gambhir stuck out his elbow to hit Watson in the rib cage (he later claimed it was an accident). Another heated exchange followed later, when Simon Katich came in Gambhir's way as he looked to steal a sharp single.
On such occasions, it seemed the temperamental wild child in him would reappear and compel him to lose his concentration. But, as Gambhir said, there was no chance Australia could get him out. "They were really desperate. They were trying to break my concentration. The important thing was to just be in their eyes and not back off. I have always believed in not backing off, and keeping my concentration." Every time he got into an altercation, he went back, concentrated harder, but remembered to keep his aggressive edge. "I have stopped being angry now, I don't get so angry. It just comes naturally for me, but not anymore," Gambhir said.
It was a relieved Gambhir - after his breakthrough hundred in Mohali - who took guard today. "There was a lot of talk around me, wherever I used to go, that I have been getting out in the 60s and 70s," Gambhir said, talking of the impact the Mohali innings had on him. "The important thing was I always knew that it was just around the corner. If I am getting the 60s and 70s, and if I got just one hundred, that could be the turning point of my Test career. That Mohali hundred has worked in my favour. Maybe I am much more relaxed because that talk has gone down."
The innings that followed Mohali was a complete one. There was struggle, there was accumulation, and finally, there was domination.
After he started with a flashy square drive, he was made to work hard for his runs. He also saw Virender Sehwag, his usual partner in aggression, go early, and Rahul Dravid not long after. Stuark Clark was in the middle of a typically miserly spell; his first seven overs went for five runs. Watson began with a strong off-side field, and kept bowling wide of the off stump, playing on his patience. Gambhir was forced to play a game that doesn't come naturally to him - his first 100 balls fetched him 38 runs.
But Gambhir had with him Sachin Tendulkar playing a fantastic knock, which took the pressure off. He let Tendulkar take charge, and started taking singles and doubles. The running between the wickets was top-notch, and it ensured that the second-string bowlers never got into rhythm. The pair also knew that Australia were lagging behind the over-rate and that the third string would soon be introduced. By the time Cameron White came on, Gambhir had reached 40 off 117. In White's first over, he took 10, via a cut, a drive through extra cover, and a fine sweep.
"The way Sachin and I played against White, I don't think they had any option of continuing with him," Gambhir said. "They had to bowl some other bowler. For me, spinners still have a major role to play, but the way we played they had no option of continuing with it."
What followed was a calculated assault and the Australian bowlers aided him. Watson bowled, from round the stumps, into his pads time and again. And Gambhir simply kept flicking him through midwicket. Seven boundaries, near-replays of each other, came through the area; many more were fielded at short midwicket. The other shot as valuable for him was the steer through third man, a smart choice against two bowlers bowling in the high 140ks. He moved from 40 to 100 in 73 balls. Defensive fields or no defensive fields, Gambhir went along at one-day pace. The 100 came up with a grand six off Watson.
He had stayed in their eyes, but not lost his concentration. "I made my debut against Australia and I was all at sea, to be honest," Gambhir said. "At that time, I had one dream - to score runs against Australia. That dream is now coming true. I was very determined coming into this series because I sure remembered my debut Test. It wasn't that great an experience."
And unlike Mohali, no loose shot was forthcoming once he reached his century. Simply, he went back to concentrating. To all that happened around him, he reacted but did not retort, except through his bat. If the message of the day was not clear enough from his batting, he later spelt it out in black and white for Australia. "The way Katich bowled, a couple of balls really spun. Whatever cricket I have played at the Kotla, the bounce starts getting inconsistent from the third day on, once it starts breaking," Gambhir said.
"We have got two quality spinners in our side, and the condition that we are in - at 300 for 3 - and the way Amit Mishra bowled in the last game, Australia are going to be under pressure. The kind of batting they have shown on the turning track in Mohali, it's not going to be easy at all for them here."