South Africa v India, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 5th day January 6, 2011

Gambhir defies pain to grind down South Africa

For an attacking batsman, Gautam Gambhir shows a surprisingly liking for situations where dour defending is the need of the hour
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Gautam Gambhir loves these situations; situations which attacking batsmen such as himself should find difficult in theory. A match to save, no thought of scoring runs, no release of pressure through boundaries, just grinding the opposition down, and boring the hell out of them. It is not as easy to do as it is to say. Not when your injured hand has combined with a fresh hit to your elbow to put you out of cricket for a few weeks. Not when you decide to come out to bat one last time against Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel on an uneven pitch, with that crazy swing from the first innings still on your mind. Not when the third ball you face hits you on the same aching elbow that needed icing for a whole day.

During an equally important innings he played in Napier in 2008-09, where he batted longer in terms of time (close to 11 hours), but faced a lesser challenge from the track and the bowlers - VVS Laxman noticed that Gambhir hadn't said a word for a very, very long time. Gambhir told Laxman he didn't want to come out of the zone he was in. That innings, he went at 12 runs an hour. Today, as he went at 14 runs to the hour. He had found a similar zone.

Gambhir repelled everything the fast bowlers threw at him. There were judicious leaves either on line or length, or both. When the bouncers were at him, he rode the bounce well. When the leg gully came in, he managed to fend the ball down into the ground. When Steyn went round the wicket and looked for a repeat of the dismissal from the second innings in Centurion, he managed to clip him for four.

Paul Harris provided him with a challenge, even though Gambhir is one of the best players and dominators of spin in the world, because of the rough outside the left-hand batsman's off stump. When Harris bowled from the Kelvin Grove End, the ball kicked and turned and snarled at him, but Gambhir swallowed his pride and just kept kicking away balls pitched in the rough. Some of them reared up towards his hurt elbow, some even higher, but he resisted the urge for release. Balls and minutes went by, and Gambhir looked more and more entrenched.

The only time he got anxious to score runs wasn't a surprise. He gets a little fidgety in the 40s and the 90s, wanting to reach the landmark as quickly as possible. Even in Napier, where he put the rest of the world out of his head like a monk, he got to his fifty and his hundred by steeping out to a spinner and lofting him over the infield. He got more enterprising in the 40s again, punching Steyn down the ground for four, and driving him over point with what was not a controlled shot. He then played and missed one, charged at Harris again, and was not steady until he had square-cut Steyn to bring up his 11th fifty-plus score in the 30 attempts he has had to bat in the second innings.

The steadiness was deflating for South Africa, especially after Rahul Dravid got out just before tea. Gambhir had made 62 from 142 when Dravid got out, and then just to make sure South Africa were completely disheartened, he scored only two off the next 42 deliveries. For those who respect stonewallers, it was a beautiful passage of play that started just before Dravid's dismissal: Gambhir added five runs in 58 deliveries.

By the time he got out in an unfortunate manner, gloving one down the leg side, Gambhir had made sure the series had been saved. India were not surprised at the source of this particular kind of resistance. "We saw the Napier innings, which was very special," MS Dhoni said. "We all knew he was one guy who could do it. It was really good to see him take those big heavy blows on the body and still continue. You need plenty of courage to do that, and it was good to see the bat the way he did. Unfortunately he got out. If he had stayed till the end, it would have been much better, but still happy because the team needed that and one of the individuals stepped up and said, 'Okay I will be the person to do that.'"

Now that the game has petered out to a tame draw, Gambhir's effort might look easier than it was, but it took all his concentration to bat and not do what every batsman loves to do: score runs. Gambhir didn't get a century on the tour that was to be his biggest test as an opener, but he looked good for one on three occasions out of the four times he batted. Quietly during the series, Gambhir has walked away with a lot of credit.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • notspot on January 7, 2011, 19:23 GMT

    I think Indians shoud name their own Man of the Match after every Test, just for the Indian Team. That is the only way to give some recognition to the tremendous fight put up by Gauti in the third test match.

  • praume2001 on January 7, 2011, 19:07 GMT

    i guess...murali vijay shud open the batting with gambhir...as they both r specialist openers... pujara at no. 3 and sehwag at 5...by doing this we can fill dravid's position... and can use sehwag better against old ball... but the only problem wud b...dhoni and sehwag are almost run a ball player and laxman wud hv to shoulder much more responsibility then...but still its worth a risk...

  • sandunk on January 7, 2011, 18:47 GMT

    Why do people even argue who is the no. 1 team? It's really none of their business. It is decided by point system as established by ICC, whoever is at top is the no.1 at that point of time. Is it that hard to follow? A true no.1 is decided over a period of time, not by a single game or series. And that is true across all sports, whether its tennis, soccer or kabaddi.

  • dummy4fb on January 7, 2011, 17:35 GMT

    @A.Afker

    And you forgot to mention the same India that defeated England in their backyard the last time they met.

    The order is as it is

    India 1 SA 2 ENG probably 3(they beat the number 5 side gosh!!! SL are better)

    And dont you worry you will get the answer once India travels to England after the WC.

  • sachin1111989 on January 7, 2011, 16:45 GMT

    A fair result, but wonder what would have been the outcome if only there was a practice match. India, certainly created more winning opportunities than SA. Apart from one bad day at Centurion, it was a splendid performance by India. SA, on the other hand, have some problems. The batting, apart from Kallis and to a lesser extent Amla, has looked vulnerable against a weaker attack. And, as ever, SA struggle to find a top quality spinner that could have won them the final test. India, on the other hand, cannot find a suitable partner for Zaheer Khan, without which, a series win in SA seems impossible.

  • Jithinvsjj on January 7, 2011, 15:50 GMT

    @A.Afker...Its not that you deciding the ratings... Kindly avoid such comments plssss

  • kdcricket on January 7, 2011, 15:35 GMT

    @Afker...dont forget England lost to Aussies in a test match(got whipped pretty bad)...India did not

  • DaisonGarvasis on January 7, 2011, 15:31 GMT

    @A. Afker - You wish!!! There is a correction buddy. For your information, India is the Number 1 and thats it - you like it or not. England Beat Australia and that is a team on a slide down. Well, the last time I checked India beat Australia 2-0 in the series. You might think it may have been 1-1 "IF" australia had beaten India once. But the "truth" is Australia did not beat India.If the win was for one wicket or not. There are other "ifs" on England's win too. "IF" Mitch Johnson got back his swing on other matches like he did on the third test, the result of ashes would have been different. So you can say all "ifs and buts" as much as you like. But the result stands. When Australia and SA were number 1 sides there were no complaints. Why you got a problem now? You must have expected India to be blown away in South Africa but the "truth" that too didnt happen. So calm down and watch india play. Let england also play win more tests and get their Number 1 position if they deserve it.

  • Rushikey on January 7, 2011, 14:25 GMT

    Don't judge England team by Ashesh performance.. Player from both the sides play in Ashesh series with their heart out.. some succeed some won't, Its similar to India Pakistan matches, Every player gives their 200% in these clashes.. They can repeat these kind feeling and playing efforts in any other tournament.. So don't judge Englands prolific performance in Ashes only.. Take a look at their performance in other series also.. Then you will realise why England is not No. 1

  • Rushikey on January 7, 2011, 14:18 GMT

    Hi A.Afker, Well I liked your statistics, But you forgot to mention the playing conditions, England won the matches against Aus on spitches which have some support for the bowler..not the flat batting friendly wickets like IND.. You will get your answer who is no. 1 in a comming world Cup

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