“What your eyes can’t see, your hands can’t hit.” These were the famous words by Muhammad Ali before his ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ bout with George Foreman in 1974. Little would Ali have imagined that 40 years later, these lines uttered by him would serve as an inspiration for a batsman.
Here were are talking about Gautam Gambhir. The opener, who made a comeback recently, has used it as a template to sort out the technical flaws that crept into his batting over a period of time.
The ill-fated tour to England in 2014 was an eye-opener for the left-hander. Having barely scored a run in that series, Gambhir was dropped from the Test squad. Not willing to sit back at home pondering over his immediate future in international cricket, the opener packed his bags and went to Perth to meet former Australia Test opener Justin Langer. The Australian sojourn, which he undertook in the beginning of 2015, has been a “game-changer” for him.
“Even before the England tour, when I was scoring runs, I did not look completely in control of my game. That’s when I met Langer at the Champions League in Hyderabad, some seasons ago,” Gambhir said.
“Obviously, he made a lot of sense to me, and with time I realised he was the person whom I could trust. I went to Perth, and spent time with him. His inputs were more mental than technical,” he explains. Gambhir adds that it was during this stint that he met Langer’s batting coach Neil “Noddy” Holder. It was on Holder’s insistence that he opted for a more open-chested batting stance. “If Justin helped me in the mental aspect of the game, Noddy helped me on the technical side. He is the best batting coach I have worked with. He was the guy who asked me to open my stance,” Gambhir adds.
On the face of it, the technical shift so late in his career may have sounded a tad risky, but the 35-year-old believes it helped him sight the ball better. That’s where Gambhir slips into the Muhammad Ali analogy.
“What your eyes can’t see, your hands can’t hit. These were the words of Ali, and it’s applicable in batting as well. Both Justin and I have been discussing it a lot when I was in Australia. If you cannot watch something clearly, your hands will never react,” he notes.
The open stance allowed Gambhir to sight the ball better and helped him play percentage cricket. Those wide balls, which he used to slash at away from his body were now ignored. Even the shots square off the wicket were no longer part of his arsenal.
Armed with a new stance, he began to play straighter – as the purists would say – in the ‘V’. Consequently, the straight and on-drives became a more recurrent feature in his batting. Even the hook and pull shots, which he had trouble with in the past due to his closed stance, became more profitable.
“Obviously, when you talk about the technical aspect, it’s about scoring big runs in four-day competitions and Tests. So, there was no need to chase those wide deliveries outside the off-stump. The new stance helped me score big runs and play more percentage cricket,” Gambhir says.
The change in technique has helped Gambhir play the sheet anchor’s role with ease. Flair was abandoned for a more dogged approach. Four fifties (which included three scores in the 90s) in three Duleep Trophy games last month helped him push his case for a Test recall.
KL Rahul’s injury after the Kanpur Test against New Zealand helped Gambhir make a comeback to the Test squad after two years. His much awaited return to international cricket came in Indore, where he registered scores of 29 and 50.
Not surprisingly, more than 65 per cent of those runs came on the on-side and straight down the ground.
“It was just about being in a better position to watch the ball more closely, while at the same time trying to expand my game. At the moment, I am reasonably at peace with my game,” Gambhir claims.
Not in favour of neutral venues
Having missed Delhi’s opening two Ranji games as he was on national duty, Gambhir is poised to return for the third match against Karnataka at the Eden Gardens. With a new coach at the helm (KP Bhaskar), Delhi’s captain will be eager to get his side into the knock-out stage, something they had failed to do last season.
“As a captain, I want to make sure we play positively and look to win every game, rather than aim for a draw. We failed to qualify for the knockouts last season. I don’t see any reason why we can’t do it this time around,” he asserts.
Delhi have already notched up a win in their season opener against Assam, and will be buoyed by the triple century scored by their young wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant in the drawn second game against Maharashtra.
Gambhir , however, believes having neutral venues this Ranji season is a step in the wrong direction.
“Just because couple of teams made unprepared tracks last season, all the other teams are made to suffer. Playing at home always gives you a positive feel. The domestic season should have been played like it always has been – home and away. Under the current set-up, Delhi will never play at the Ferozeshah Kotla. That, in my opinion is sad,” he notes.
Going forward, Gambhir reckons that if a venue prepares a track deemed unfit for a Ranji game, the match referee must be given the powers to dock points from the hosts. That, in essence, will force all associations to make sporting tracks.
“I am a firm believer that you should have five-day games in Ranji cricket. That will give teams a more realistic chance of enforcing a result. If you can play five-day Tests, why not have it in Ranji games as well,” he signs off.