February 4, 2014 4:15:56 am
The last time Gautam Gambhir turned up for Rest of India (ROI) in an Irani Cup tie was back in October 2006. Back then his Test career was only 13 matches and a solitary century old, and he hadn’t donned India colours for close to a year. That game against Uttar Pradesh at Nagpur in many ways was a platform to launch a comeback to the national team for the left-handed opener. For the record, he returned scores of 20 and 64 not out in his team’s massive win.
In five days’ time at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, Gambhir will find himself in the same position all over again as he returns to the ROI team after a eight-year gap-older, wiser, battle-hardened and probably more desperate than ever before to make a mark. And he will be up against a quality Karnataka bowling attack led by skipper Vinay Kumar and ably supported by Abhimanyu Mithun and Stuart Binny.
The 32-year-old veteran will not be the only out-of-favour star trying to prove a point as the ROI team will be skippered by Gambhir’s longtime teammate Harbhajan Singh. The combative off-spinner had recently insisted that he hadn’t given up the fight in terms of winning his place back in the Indian Test team. The Irani tie, only the fourth of his first-class career, will provide him with his best chance to back those bold proclamations with ball in hand, that too against an in-form and formidable Karnataka batting line-up.
End for Sehwag, Yuvraj?
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While Gambhir and Harbhajan are the stand-out names in the ROI squad that otherwise consists of an array of leading performers from the Ranji Trophy this season, the selectors found no place for Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh. It could well mean that Sandeep Patil & Co have slammed the doors on Sehwag and Yuvraj at least as far as Test cricket is concerned.
Sehwag will be 36 by the time the next domestic season rolls in. The explosive Delhi opener turned middle-order batsman managed only 279 runs in 10 matches this year, having begun the season with a string of failures against a not-too-flash West Indies A attack. Yuvraj on the other hand failed to come up with even a single noteworthy performance with the bat during his intermittent stints with the Punjab team apart from having lost his place in the Indian ODI team.
In contrast, Gambhir and Harbhajan have kept themselves in the selectors’ radar even though Patil’s panel haven’t seemed too keen on going back to the old guard. There is a chance that India’s disastrous performances overseas of late could well alter that approach. Or that’s what the two veterans will be hoping for anyway.
Gambhir scored 712 runs in nine first-class matches at an average of 50.85 with two centuries, having started the season with a grappling ton against West Indies A in Hubli. Though his statistics were impressive they might not have been eye-catching enough to demand for an immediate recall. A potential return to the Test team will depend as much on what he does at the Chinnaswamy Stadium as it will on how Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan go in Auckland and Wellington over the next two weeks.
Harbhajan was pretty much the same in terms of his returns with the ball. A single five-wicket haul in seven Ranji matches is unlikely to entail an ‘outstanding’ remark if he had to indulge in a self-appraisal. But the spirited off-spinner with over 400 Test wickets kept nibbling away, eventually finishing with 23 scalps at a decent average of 23.13 apiece.
Harbhajan, who led Punjab to the semifinals of the Ranji Trophy, will also have the responsibility of leading a side that will have Jiwanjot Singh partnering Gambhir at the top of the order and the middle-order bolstered by the likes of Maharashtra’s Kedar Jadhav and Ankit Bawne, and Tamil Nadu’s Baba Aparajith. He will also have seasoned leg-spinner Amit Mishra for company in the spin department along with J&K all-rounder Parvez Rasool.
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