Sri Lanka v India, 4th ODI, Premadasa Stadium, Colombo February 5, 2009

The angry young man matures


Gautam Gambhir scored a career best 150 to lead India to their fourth win of the series © AFP
 

Until the end of 2007, Gautam Gambhir was an angry young man wallowing in domestic cricket, not having played a Test for two years. The runs were coming but the recognition wasn't. "I have 24 first-class hundreds," he snapped when once asked about being branded as a one-day player, not yet ready for Test cricket. "Scoring hundreds in first-class cricket is not as easy as people make it out to be."

The same question was asked today, a little more than a year later, after Gambhir had made his highest one-day score to lead India to victory. His answer was exactly the same. Only the tone of delivery was different. He was self-assured, completely at ease with himself, and spoke quietly.

"I am much more relaxed now and much more confident," Gambhir said. "I don't have to play for my pace in my side any more. One or two failures are not going to make a difference. That is the one big factor, the change in the mindset [after a successful 2008]."

Gambhir is now completely aware of the demands of a match situation and, more importantly, what he is capable of. Today, he scored 88 runs through ones, twos and threes: 39 of them in the third-man region, 31 through cover - his scoring areas. "In Sri Lanka, you really need to run a lot if you want to be successful," he said. "I don't think I can hit big like Viru [Sehwag], Yuvi [Yuvraj] and MS [Dhoni]. You just can't copy them. I need to play according to my own game. That has what made me successful."

His critics said he fished too much outside off stump and would struggle in Test cricket. The comments were true, to an extent, but Gambhir has transformed himself mentally. Most batsmen try and shelve the shot that gets them into trouble. Gambhir, however, has polished it to perfection. He now scores a lot of runs towards third man.

His success has not come quickly. Over the last two years, Gambhir has worked his craft with lots of care. "I worked with Gary in the nets and in the mental aspect," he said. "He is a left hander and has played over hundred games. And he was an opening batsman who knows what is required to score runs in Test cricket."

What were the discussions with Kirsten about? "On what should be my scoring areas and how to play in Test cricket."

The results started to come thick and fast. "I think the Sri Lankan Test series was the turning point and gave me lots of confidence. And the second thing was the century against Australia in Mohali. There was lots of pressure on me that I was not converting my starts. Those innings relaxed me."

The confidence Gambhir gained from Test success made him more effective in one-day internationals. Today he also showed why he is currently one of the best players of spin in the world, repeatedly moving down the track to Murali and driving him inside out. "That's my strength. You need to use your scoring areas. It's important where you want to play against quality bowler like him. Its working and I hope it continues."

The abundance of runs in the last year has not diminished his hunger. "It was important for me to carry the momentum into this year," he said. "I am very happy with this century. It was one of my best, considering it came in Sri Lankan conditions. I can carry this momentum to New Zealand as well." The angry young man has grown into a person at peace with himself.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo