Bouncing a little more than Gautam Gambhir had bargained for,the ball from James Pattinson squared up the left-hander and took his outside edge near the shoulder of his bat. It was a familiar sight.
But just as Gambhirs bat moved to tuck itself under his arm for the trudge back to the dressing room,the ball swooshed through the gap between the gloves of Brad Haddin,leaping to his left behind the wicket. A slice of luck,at last,and probably well deserved too. For a change,Gambhirs score wasnt in single figures when he edged that poke outside off stump. It was 66.
Different voices have prescribed different solutions to Gambhirs flirtatious ways with balls angled across him by Australian pacemen. Some have exhorted him to leave more often. Some,less charitably,have asked him to find the answers in the nets and let someone else open Indias batting.
At the end of Day One of the SCG Test,after that poke had dismissed Gambhir for a three-ball duck,coach Duncan Fletcher had suggested another method. We are working on him to be very positive, Fletcher had said. Its more mental; hes been very tentative,pushing at deliveries. Hes an attacking batter and needs to be a lot more positive in his approach.
This,essentially,was what Gambhir did on Day Three. Its probably what hes been trying to do all through this tour. But for a batsman out of form,it isnt easy to translate an idea be positive into instinctive reactions against 145kph bowling.
This showed at the start of his innings. Second ball he faced,Pattinson gave him a little bit of width. It wouldnt have seemed like width if hed made that half-shuffle across the crease and fended uncertainly. What he did was slash,slash like his life depended on it,and the ball flew over the packed point-gully region and raced away for four.
Next ball was fuller,and he reached out with a big slicing bat-swing. The ball went through the same region; four more. Its a mystery how a couple of boundaries,slightly chancy boundaries at that,can make a batsman feel at ease. But they do. Perhaps conditions played a part too,and between Gambhir and the Australian bowlers was a batsman-friendly pitch at its most docile.
For his next 17 balls,Gambhir looked at his most assured at any point during this trip. Even the loss of Virender Sehwag didnt eat into his composure. He pushed balls close to his off stump with soft hands and in front of him,and left the ones wider than that. Three balls drifted onto his hips or pads,and he tucked them away for two runs each.
The last of these was off the first ball that Peter Siddle bowled after coming on as first change. Siddles next two balls were full,and Gambhir strode forward confidently and stroked both to the extra cover fence. In Siddles next over,he drove one straight back to move from 27 to 31. Less than a tenth of Michael Clarkes score,but even Clarke would call it the most important tenth.
As tea approached,Clarke brought Nathan Lyon on for a couple of overs. That would remain the extent of the off spinners contribution for the day. Even an out-of-form Gambhir will move his feet fluently against spin,and he demonstrated this during the last three balls of the session. He drove the first savagely,and painfully into Ricky Pontings shin at silly point. The second he stepped out to and drilled inside-out for four. Cue the slightly short ball. Gambhir was already ready,back so deep in his crease that his square cut might have struck Haddin a nasty blow on the side of the head. Haddin survived,the ball rocketed to the point boundary.
Post-tea,after he had moved to 65,Gambhir played out four successive maidens from Ben Hilfenhaus. The leave,which seemed to have deserted him at the start of the series,was now working at close to full efficiency. A change of ends for the batsmen,initiated by a single in Hilfenhauss next over,brought out the prod once more. But the chance fell to the floor,and Gambhir lived on.
There might be too much time left here for this moment to mean anything in the context of this match. But it could still prove significant to the rest of the tour,and perhaps Gambhirs career too.