November 27, 2009

How good is Gambhir?

Why the Indian opener is among the three best young batsmen in Test cricket today

Virender Sehwag thinks Gautam Gambhir is the best Indian opener since Sunil Gavaskar. He's wrong, but in a rather pleasant kind of way, because it is not the subject of the statement but its maker who is the current holder of that honour. Sadly, it is not a particularly long list of players who qualify, and really, only Navjot Sidhu and Ravi Shastri can lay claim to the title. Both endured good patches and bad and so a fair assessment should only come after Gambhir has played about 50 matches, but if he continues in the form he is in, or even in relative proximity of it, he should prove Sehwag right. Between them they should be disappointed if they don't emerge as India's finest opening pair ever. The current incumbents are Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan, a terrific combination, but these two should bat together for much longer.

Gambhir is in the form of his life, 27 Tests having produced eight centuries. It's the kind of start Andrew Strauss had, and indeed, for someone who goes through form swings Strauss has an extraordinary conversion rate of a century every 3.7 Tests (which is identical to Sachin Tendulkar's conversion)! Gambhir currently scores a century every 3.4 Tests and averages almost 57. But it is in the last 16 months, really, that his career has taken off. In 25 innings he has seven centuries and seven half-centuries for an average of 77, and just as strikingly, has only one single-digit score. Followers of Test cricket, and they are still a pretty substantial number, will rub their hands in glee at figures like those.

And yet Gambhir is not one steeped in orthodoxy, or indeed limited by the format he currently excels in. An outstanding CB Series campaign in Australia last year marked him out as someone special, and I have little doubt that if there were to be an IPL auction today, he would be on top of everybody's shortlist. To that extent he is like the good old music director in the movies: not quite the classicist but equally at home with the raga and the remix, the folk song and the peppy dance number. And that is where he is creating a large gap between himself and other new-age cricketers like Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina, whose infatuation with the short game is limiting their progress in other forms.

Gambhir is creating a large gap between himself and other new-age cricketers like Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina, whose infatuation with the short game is limiting their progress in other forms

I believe, and this is open to debate, that he is one of three finest young batsmen in world cricket, sandwiched for seniority between two South Africans, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy. De Villiers, in the middle of a pretty decent patch himself, and equally good in each of the three forms, averages 44 from 52 Tests, a number that is bound to go up, and Duminy oozes enough class to suggest that he would be a safe stock to invest in even if he is only six Test matches old.

So what could come in the way of Gambhir? For a start, we don't know how good he can be in Australia and South Africa in Test cricket, two places where India have traditionally struggled. Of his 27 Tests, 17 have been played in India and the rest spread between Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and New Zealand. You could say he hasn't really been tested by pace and bounce, but you cannot pass an exam unless you have appeared for it. He has 12 months to prepare; indeed, the tour of South Africa will mark the start of a really stern examination for India, with a World Cup at home and away tours of England and Australia. He will be nudging 30 then, no longer able to slip into the "young" category, and that patch could well determine whether he has it in him to enter the portals of the greats.

Sadly, it is unlikely his record will have progressed greatly till then because India are currently a bit allergic to playing Test cricket. When you are in the kind of form Gambhir is in, you want to play as much as possible, and with just three more Tests in the next 10 months, it is a pretty meagre diet he is on. It doesn't help either that India are producing the kind of pitches that can only drive people away from Test cricket. I fear therefore that Gambhir might well be the last major Indian player whose career could be assessed by a Test record. Now that's something to think about.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Anand on November 30, 2009, 12:18 GMT

    @j_boyd I am in aus too, it seems i read news more then u, it's been week since aussie fans have rated michael clarke as an overrated , even Ponting had to issue statement in favour of clarke, well there is just no doubt about clarke's talent, here is the article that discusses how good gambhir is, and he truely deserves such appreciation, and some aussie fellows (not everyone) jump and try to prove the point about their own country man, not fair. This is not the article about gambhir vs clarke, then whats the point to bring clarke in the picture, clarke doesn't open the inning (he did once or twice). some guys talked about indian wickets, if it was such a flat track how come sreesanth got 5 wickets, so please learn to accept the truth...

  • Supreeth on November 30, 2009, 6:25 GMT

    Gambhir is truly one of the top 3 batsmen in test cricket today. Purely on the basis of performance in adversity, he ranks no 1. I cant recollect any modern day test batsmen have played the kind of innings he played in Napier. He can play attacking and defensive cricket with equal tenacity and rightly deserves to be the test player of the year. I second Harsha s thought on AB. But JP Duminy has a lot to prove before he can be ranked in the top 3 batsmen category.

  • kieran on November 30, 2009, 1:20 GMT

    Gambhir has done what has been asked of him so far and would deserve a spot in an under 30 World XI. But Duminy? He looks good but what has he done besides a good series in Aus? One century. Hardly ground breaking. The best of the younger generation is surely Graeme Smith, KP (when his brain is turned on) and Michael Clarke. @ andyghandi, mate I don't know where you are but I'm in Aus and Clarke is not considered over rated. He has been our form batsmen for 2 years, avg over 60 for the last 4 years and was superb in Eng this year. Learn to accept the truth. And to anyone who mentions Cook, Boycott's mother is better than him.

  • srinivas rao on November 29, 2009, 23:03 GMT

    BCCI is bent upon killing test cricket for the sake of tamasha cricket like IPL. Ever since this IPL tourney started we hardly played any meaninful amount of test cricket. Having a two month calender for IPL, BCCI has hardly any time for test cricket in India. Cricket fans want to see more of Tendulkars, Dravids, Laxmans perfoming well in tests during the final stage of their carrers and some talented youngsters like Pujara, Raina, Rohit Sharma making a mark in test cricket.

  • MADHUSUDAN on November 29, 2009, 16:38 GMT

    The age of Sachin,Dravid,Sourav & Laxman deprived many young talents to show their magic on feild. Even the serious talent of Yuvraj is struggling in test arena due to lack of chances.And now BCCI running after money like anything,organising foolish T20s at any cost.Even the idea of 7 match one day series against aussies was idiotic one.There are lesser cricketers left in BCCI. These bloody politicians are ruining test cricket and talents like Gambhir,Yuvraj & Raina.

  • sundus on November 29, 2009, 16:05 GMT

    Well, as Harsha Bhogle said, it's open to debate as to whether he's amongst the top three young batsman in the world; I don't agree entirely. He's an adept and consistent player for sure, but as many others have mentioned, he's yet to prove himself against sa, australia and england in their own countries. Secondly, I don't consider him at the age of 27-28 to be classified as a young batsman-you'd have to include players like greame smith and michael clarke in the same cathegory then. Even on Duminy I am not so sure, he performed well against aus, but 6 matches are not enough to prove him, as for now I'd consider AB as the best current young batsman, he's performed nearly in all countries and against good opposition.

  • Prince on November 29, 2009, 15:05 GMT

    Having said my opinion,I must say that Gautam is in unbelievable form since Sri Lanka 2008,& according to me,is one of the most outstanding players of spin.

  • Anand on November 29, 2009, 10:12 GMT

    My goodness, Dawsyzero are you sure you can average 50 in indian pitches, well u must have forgotten indian spinners then, u would not even last 1 ball against club class indian spinner.

  • Anand on November 29, 2009, 8:42 GMT

    Gambhir deserved appreciation, he's come long way and worked really hard. Those who have commented on his ability to play outside sub-continent, please have a look at his century against quality australian pace attack in VB series 2008. and harsha discussed about his recent contrbution in the team, the fan who tried to prove michael clarke as one of the best, buddy do u know in australia, michael clarke is considered to be one of the most over rated batsman, his form is below average these days. Guys learn to accept the truth.

  • Siddharth on November 29, 2009, 6:49 GMT

    Harsha said it rightly! Indian pitches are drving spectators, viewers and players away! When with the BCCI realise this? No one's asking them to fill the calender with Tests, but when you do play a Test, make sure it's on a sporting track, so Indian players are better equipped to play abroad, and so that the outcome of a 5 days game doesn't depend on the toss.

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