Can Gautam Gambhir vindicate his final chance?

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Can Gautam Gambhir vindicate his final chance?

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Bastab K Parida

09/28/2016

“Excitement of a debutant, certainty of experienced, nervousness of a novice...am feeling it all. Eden here I come loaded with ambitions.” Gautam Gambhir's tweet following his Test recall typified his passionate and emotional self as much as it reflects his approach to cricket itself.

An unexpected and sudden international lifeline for the 34-year-old left-handed opener, as replacement for injured KL Rahul, has come on the back of a solid show in the recent Duleep Trophy, after over two years in the wilderness following a poor run of form as well as reported attitude problems.

At one time hailed as the “next Sunil Gavaskar” by the inimitable Virender Sehwag, Gambhir is a veteran of 56 Tests, with over 4000 runs at an average a shade over 42 with nine hundreds and 21 fifties, but as he himself acknowledged in his tweet, he will approach the second of the three-Test series against New Zealand starting in Kolkata on Friday with the “nervousness of a novice.”

The pugnacious southpaw might probably not make the playing XI, with Shikhar Dhawan the automatic choice in the absence of Rahul to open with in-form Murali Vijay. However, with India scheduled to play another 12 Tests at home this packed season, and an eye on reclaiming the No. 1 spot in the ICC Test rankings, bringing Gambhir back into the mix appears a good move by the National selection committee.

For the staunch Gambhir fans – and he has an army – the southpaw's return is bound to trigger memories of his heyday. At one time a permanent fixture in all three formats of the game, Gambhir is the senior-most player in the current squad, having made his Test debut back in 2004 in the home series against Australia.

It took him four years and a comeback later to firmly establish himself in the Test side – and one among his spectacular batting efforts that comes to mind is his battling 137 that helped India save the second Test at Napier on the 2008-9 tour of New Zealand. Gambhir batted for close to 11 hours and played out 436 balls in a display of grit and single-minded focus.

Equally adept at playing seam and spin, however, it is the emotion that he brings to his batting that has an endearing effect, quite making him the character that he is. His exceptional international, and that includes that brilliant 97 in the 2011 one-day World Cup final at home, was followed by a period of drought following a dip in form that saw him lose his Test place after the 2012 home series against England.

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Gambhir earned a recall for the 2014 Test tour of England but failures at Manchester and The Oval saw him drop off the radar as his Delhi mate Dhawan, who previously in 2013 scored a century on Test debut against Australia at Mohali, firmly established himself.

However, Gambhir's inclusion is still fraught with uncertainty as Dhawan may yet earn that opener's slot despite his failures at the international level. Gambhir may be left carrying that odd water bottle into the field as the twelfth man as the opener's slot has turned into the most-contested spot in the lineup.

But, one thing that might give Gambhir a decisive edge over Dhawan when Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli sit down tomorrow to make the call will be his familiarity with the Eden Gardens. Gautam has held the Eden Gardens as his second home for six years when he has led the team to two IPL titles at the helm of the Kolkata Knight Riders. If someone should know the conditions here in and out, that would be him.

At the end of the day, there is not much that separates Gambhir from the other likely contenders for the spot tomorrow - Shikhar Dhawan and even Rohit Sharma. All three have been mercurial and unpredictable in their ways, but somehow the latter two have made a livelihood out of tottering at the precipice before a lucky gust of wind pulls them back to safety. However, for once, Gambhir does not have the pressure of keeping his spot in the side. He is the ultimate wild card in the mix and if there was any time in his career when expectations have been lowest, it is now.

Comebacks are tough. No one knows it better than Gambhir himself. If he fails to perform this time though, maybe the time would have finally arrived for Gauti to make that toughest of calls.

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