Before the third One-day International in New Delhi, the second-half of Gambhir's batting stint was dedicated to playing the off-drive. Fielding coach Trevor Penney and the Indian team's video analyst rolled their arms over as Gambhir worked on getting the 'fluency of old' in his drives. His preparation was meticulous but as it happens with out-of-form batsmen he couldn't kick out the match-day tentativeness. Once again, the 'fluency of old' was conspicuous by its absence when he opened the India innings at Kotla on Sunday.
Gambhir did try to see off the early spells but Pakistan's new-ball bowlers made life difficult for him. All through the series, the seven-foot plus Mohd Irfan's bounce had made Gambhir reluctant to come forward and drive with intent. With Irfan possessing a deadly short ball, Gambhir, on most occasions, has waited in the crease. This defensive tactic has helped him to handle the bounce effectively but not the fuller ball. So when dot balls increase, the left-hander has driven at the fuller balls without quite reaching for the ball. The results have been disastrous: the authoritative drives off have been replaced by iffy pushes.
At Chennai, he attempted to drive and was bowled by Irfan because he was too late on the stroke. He made eight off 17 balls at Chepauk, his only boundary came when he edged past second slip while trying to cut a ball when there wasn't enough width on offer.
The talented Junaid Khan has only accentuated Gambhir's indecisiveness by moving the ball both ways. Rather than driving and cutting confidently, Gambhir has been forced to wait for the bowlers to err. But so cluttered is Gambhir’s mind that when offered width to free his arms, for example in Kolkata during a painful 11 off 25, he dragged a delivery from Junaid back onto the stumps.
In Delhi, his struggle lasted a little longer — 27-balls — and ended meekly, with the point fielder accepting one of the easier catches off a wide delivery from Irfan.
In all these innings Gambhir had batted long enough to get his eye in but the indecisiveness never left him. In three innings versus Pakistan he had faced a combined 69 balls for just 34 runs. His attempts to increase the strike rate have only resulted in dismissals while he hasn't been sure-footed in defence either. Bowlers have ploughed away on the off-stump line with success when bowling to Gambhir.
The Australian fast bowlers found it easier to exploit this weakness on the faster wickets in Melbourne and Perth during the Test series and the England pacers too spotted the opportunity on the flatter tracks in India.
Gambhir's lack of runs against Pakistan, a series at the end of which his opening partner Virender Sehwag was excluded from the team for the five-match series against England, will pile on the pressure. His place in the side won't come under scrutiny just yet because over the past year he has averaged 39.50 (career average 40.24) with two centuries, the last of which was only six innings ago. Compared to Sehwag's 22.54 (career average 35.05), Gambhir has fared far better in One-dayers.
Gambhir will have to adapt to batting and running between the wickets with the 24-year-old Ajinkya Rahane, who is one of those young batsmen picked as India seeks to build the squad for the World Cup in 2015. Cheteshwar Pujara, the Test No.3, has been included in the ODI squad in place of Sehwag as the selectors seek to bring stability to this mis-firing batting line-up. Failure will rankle Gambhir, by nature intense, perhaps more than the others. A day after the final ODI, Gambhir was back at nets preparing for the England series. He was once again driving for long as he tried to find a way out of the run slump.
Sehwag to play in Vijay Hazare trophy
Dropped from the Indian ODI squad, senior opener Virender Sehwag is all set to play for Delhi in the North Zone leg of the One-day Championship for the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Sehwag is certain to play in the first Test against Australia at the Kotla from February 22 and the 34-year-old will get match practice while playing for Delhi in the zonal leg, which starts on February 13 in HP. Delhi have four one-day matches before the first Test, on February 13, 15, 17, 19 against J&K, Punjab, HP and Haryana.