November 14, 2012

Gambhir's problem is mindset, not technique

In Test cricket he needs to find a way of controlling instincts that have been successful for him in the limited-overs game

When Gautam Gambhir started out, there was much to like about his batting.

He had nimble footwork for an opener, which made him an exceptionally good player against spinners. When a spinner flighted the ball, he would use his feet effectively to reach the pitch of the delivery. His eagerness to do so forced bowlers to shorten their length, to which Gambhir responded beautifully by going deep into his crease to create room.

Against the quicker men, he didn't possess the tightest of techniques, but like all good players, he found a way around it. He would always be looking for runs, which meant a lot of dabbing and running to rotate the strike, and also punishing anything that landed in his striking zone. He rarely missed out on an opportunity to score.

In addition to the ability to punish loose balls, he also mastered the art of making every start count and of scoring big hundreds. His hunger for runs and penchant for batting for long made up for the minor technical deficiencies.

While these qualities were enough to bring success initially in international cricket, Gambhir's technical imperfections showed up when the going got tough. Unfortunately for him, these snags were related to each other, which meant that one faux pas would lead to the other.

When he stood in his stance, his head had the tendency to fall towards the off side, and that resulted in a very short-and-across front-foot stride. The moment the head falls, the judgement of line gets blurred. Balls pitching on the line of the fourth or fifth stump seem to be pitching on off-stump, and instead of leaving them alone, you tend to fish at them. The ones pitching on middle seem to be drifting down the leg side, and hence you attempt to play them towards square leg or midwicket instead of straight. It goes without saying that the moment you miss the ball, you are caught dead in front.

Gary Kirsten was quick to not only point out these lapses but also correct them. He asked Gambhir to position his head on top of his right shoulder while in the stance, which took care of his habit of leaning on the bat. Once the head stopped falling, Gambhir started leaving alone the balls that were meant to be left alone.

The second adjustment was to take the forward stride towards the bowler, which resulted in the front foot going a lot straighter. In addition, he started playing the ball a lot straighter and also very late.

This tweaking worked well for Gambhir, kickstarting one of his most successful periods in international cricket. The best part about his progress was that while he was wiping out minor flaws in his technique, he also kept building on his strengths. The results were there for everyone to see, which included him reaching the top of the Test batting rankings.

It cannot be the case that Gambhir is not aware of the repercussions of opening the face of his bat to run the ball down fine, but at times instincts overrule rational thinking

In the last couple of years, though, a rather significant pattern has emerged in Gambhir's international performances. He has continued to be among the runs in the shorter formats, but has struggled to put together big innings in the longer format on a regular basis. He seems to come out with an attacking mindset in limited-overs cricket, which results in decisive foot movements, but oddly, he seems to be in two minds in the longer format. His "neither here nor there" frame of mind is among the major reasons for the decline in his Test form.

Perhaps it has something to do with the (bad) habits one tends to pick up while playing too much short-format cricket. Though Gambhir has shots all around the wicket, he prefers dabbing the ball down to the third-man region. While it's an easy single in the shorter formats, fielders at slips and gully plug that hole neatly in Test cricket. It cannot be the case that Gambhir is not aware of the repercussions of opening the face of his bat to run the ball down fine, but at times instincts overrule rational thinking.

In Australia and against New Zealand, he tried hard to be more judicious about the balls he played and left around the off stump. But just one error of judgement was enough to end his resolve each time; after leaving a few balls alone, he would be lured into playing one that too should have been left alone.

Gambhir's lack of Test runs isn't because of a technical failing, so he will find it hard to look for answers in manuals or from cricket coaches. His problem is with his mindset, particularly about controlling his instincts. It may not be a bad idea for him to spend a few hours with Sachin Tendulkar and pick his brains on the innings Tendulkar played in Sydney in 2004. In that particular innings of 241 not out, Tendulkar showed immense control over his faculties by not playing a single cover drive in the entire innings. Gambhir will have to follow suit by telling himself that there isn't a single run available behind the stumps to him in Test cricket. Also, perhaps he needs to make a resolution to play only in front of the stumps to fast bowlers.

He may only be a couple of good innings away from finding prime form, but he's also only a couple of poor innings away from getting dropped from the team. Now it's mind over matter.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Aruhn on November 15, 2012, 11:55 GMT

    Very good batsman of spin bowling, have always had my doubts against swing, seam & pace though. Uses his hands than feet too much, good for Tip'n'Run, not for Test cricket. BTW, one of those much over-hyped players; must have been dropped ages before, for his arrogant behavior even if one could forgive his pathetic display last 3 years.

  • Thamara on November 14, 2012, 19:18 GMT

    Gautham Ghambhir is certainly a very talented player. He is one of the most talented batsmen not only in the indian team but also in the world. I agree with you on the fact that he is not as consistent in test cricket as he is in ODI cricket. In my view, he is naturally an aggressive batsman and therefore in test cricket, he can't help playing some of his favorite shots. It is because of his aggressive mindset that he often falls out with opposition players. It is very difficult to change somebody's natural instincts as you have mentioned. The best thing is to stick with the natural way of doing things and turn that into our favour. I reckon Ghambhir should also take a leaf out of Sehwag's book. Sehwag never stop himself from playing shots even in test matches. If he did so, he would never be as successful as he is at the moment. Once I saw Ghambhir playing wonderful inning against Newzealand in a test match, which proved that his technique was good enough to play in any condition.

  • s on November 14, 2012, 18:33 GMT

    Despite the fact that Gambhir hasn't gotten a Test hundred in ages, he has done well occasionally (even away from home): the Cape Town test in SA in 2011 and the Sydney test in 2012 come to mind. The problem is that he is no longer able to convert these starts to big scores, something he was really good at doing some time ago. He just needs to buckle down and score that big hundred against the English, and if he can do that, India's prospects will improve tremendously. On a side note, one thing to be said for Gambhir is that he looks to try to address his failings as opposed to Sehwag, who will always play in his ridiculous way and will turn out to be a liability more often than not.

  • Partish on November 14, 2012, 16:57 GMT

    Alexk400 did you even bother to read the entire article?... you say Aakash's anylysis is "bad" and then you literally copy paste his anyalysis and say thats what is the problem. eg "So i think everyone style has use in some times. For me Gambhir and sehwag problems are mental and not technique" thats exactly what Aakash is alluding to in his write-up...

  • Jay on November 14, 2012, 15:59 GMT

    I think Gambir has a problem of inadequacy in relation to varieties of shots. He keeps poking and prodding outside that off stump and nicks it more often than not to the slips. He HAS to find a way to counter that. He will be tested more so in that corridor outside off stump by all the England quicks. He should also learn to LEAVE the damn ball. The more he does that, the more better of his chances to score big runs. Because he's one of those players who LOVES to score big runs. He has a golden opportunity at home to put it right. My father always used to tell me: "Playing fast bowling is the EASIEST task in cricket" and do agree with him; especially when the bowler bowls everything outside the off stump, I can sit back and enjoy the view. The same applies to short pitches bowling as well. You ONLY play the ones that you think are coming at you (middle and leg). I know it's easier said than done, but I think Gambir's days as an opener are inching to an end.

  • Viswanath on November 14, 2012, 15:46 GMT

    Gambhir is one of those Excellent batsmen who can easily open the face of the bat and provide good catching practice to the slip fielders... LOL

  • Naman on November 14, 2012, 15:25 GMT

    Gauti has been a superb player for India and will continue to be so for the next few years. People putting pressure on him should know that when the going gets tough, then the tough people like Gauti get going. He is looking hungry for runs from what I can see from the various sources of cricinfo news about team India practice sessions. We can expect a couple of centuries from him in this series. Viru too should do well. These guys need to play out the first five-ten overs safely and then the day is theirs for the taking. Viru has no technical weaknesses as such but he should restrain himself when going after the spinners. He gets hyper aggressive when he sees a spinner come into the attack. Even if they play securely they should get 4 RPO against Swann which is quite good in test match situations. The English bowlers will go flat unless the pitch and the outfield is patchy which brings reverse swing into play but we have our very own Zak to bail us out in such situations 4-0 India.

  • Cricket on November 14, 2012, 14:26 GMT

    The reason why Gambhir fishes outside to any bowler other than spin is because his technique and temperament are poor. Against the spinners he has time to pick the line and length but against the fast bowlers it's another story I'm afraid. He doesn't have the conviction to face up to the quicks so he's reading neither the line or length, doesn't get into position and as a result plays away from his body. He and for that matter Sehwag can count themselves fortunate that Finn's missing the 1st test. Two games away from being dropped??? He should have been dropped a while ago and the fact he hasn't been suggests that he won't be any time soon either regardless of how he performs. If England have done their homework they'll soften him up with some short pitched stuff at the head and body and then bowl across him outside the off stump.

  • Rayner on November 14, 2012, 14:15 GMT

    Jonsey2 - There's a big difference between Gambhir and Marsh - Gambhir isn't rubbish!I mean c'mon Marsh averages in the Mid 30's in 1st class and list A, and then he gets a test cap! Really says something about the quality of Aus batting coming through these days, that you can't find a player with a 1st class ave of 40+! let alone the 50+, year on year that used to be compulsary to get that baggy green.

  • Al on November 14, 2012, 14:12 GMT

    Worst idea ever - spend a few hours with Sachin Tendulkar and pick his brains. After a training session with Tendulkar, Gambhir will start getting clean bowled, in addition to getting caught in the slips.

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