Hurling the short stuff at Gambhir, just the type of stuff that the Indian camp do not ever enjoy, Dawes had the left-handed opener jumping and moving, before the cuts and the pulls were put on full display. A day before the opening game of their fourth World T20 against Afghanistan, Gambhir prepared his heart out to get his feet moving and the runs ticking. He, after all, has been ever-so-critical to the team’s chances in the shortest format of the game.
It cannot be ignored that Gambhir was India’s highest scorer in their triumph of the inaugural edition in South Africa, 2007. Back then, as MS Dhoni took over the reins of captaincy for the first time in his international career, Gambhir proved to be his ultimate crisis-man — with 227 runs from six innings, including his career-best 75 in the final against Pakistan. Gambhir then repeated that act in 2011 in the one-day version, as Dhoni revelled in the glory of his finest hour and trophy — the World Cup.
Again, it was Gambhir who delivered Dhoni his destiny on a platter, with three half-centuries and a match-winning 97 in the final against Sri Lanka. In short, everytime Gambhir has fired for India, Dhoni has wrapped his hands around ICC maces and series’ trophies. And it is possibly not a coincidence that when Gambhir’s big slump came, India fell off its Test perch and are now currently struggling in all forms of the game.
Hit and run
The signs of recovery have been poor, going by his start to this World T20. In the first warm-up game against the Lankans last week, Gambhir was hit on the wrists in the very first over by Lasith Malinga, and the left-hander had to watch the rest of the game in the hospital. In the second one against Pakistan, he chopped one on early by going for an expansive heave. With his partner and ally regularly departing early, even Virender Sehwag seems to be suffering from the lack of partnerships at the top.
On Tuesday, while Gambhir burnt many calories training, the VS319 kitbag remained unopened. Sehwag had decided to directly take on the Afghans on Wednesday night, with no getting-eye-in required. Unlike Gambhir, Sehwag is, has and always will be an impact player. But of late, that impact has not rankled in opposition dressing rooms, with the big-hitting man from Najafgarh too being woefully out of touch, in all forms of the game.
These days, Sehwag and Gambhir have found it hard to score runs, with or without the other as a partner. In T20 cricket, the stat books will tell you that it has almost never happened. But there’s always a first time and the concrete hard batting strip off the R Premadasa Stadium could be just what the doctor recommended for the duo.
However, Afghanistan’s bowling line-up, something Nawroz Mangal’s side pride themselves on immensely, cannot be taken lightly. Fast bowler Dawlat Zardan was recently nominated for the ICC awards for his lethality, while Samiullah Shenwari is supposed to be a great leg-spinner in the making. Also, in Karim Sadiq, Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shehzad and skipper Mangal, the Afghans have a more-than-decent batting line-up.
Few though will buy tickets for the late game in Colombo to watch Afghanistan bat. The spectators, of course, will make their presence felt to witness the long and mighty Indian batting line-up doing what they do best — score big on a flat track. With or without their openers firing, India will surely be expected to get past this test.
But for them to proceed deep into this event and into the month of October, Gambhir will be expected to come good soon. He will not have a quicker shot at form than Wednesday.
India's chances in the T 20 World Cup hinges on the performance of its star players who in the recent past have shown signs of sluggishness and a detached approach. Dhoni's crawl towards targets which has proved costly in the past should be done away with if we are to take a shot at winning the cup.