Just over a year ago, Alastair Cook was in the position where Gautam Gambhir is now. After having a mediocre series against Pakistan at home, where he could only score 167 runs in seven innings, questions were raised about how the left-hander would fare on the bouncier tracks of Australia during the Ashes.
In bowler-friendly conditions at home, Cook's technique was found wanting against the swing and seam bowling of Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. His position at the top of the order was hanging on a knife's edge as critics in England expressed doubts about how the Essex player would cope up against the swing of Ben Hilfenhaus, seam movement of Ryan Harris and pace of Mitchell Johnson. What followed in Australia dispelled those doubts emphatically as Cook rightfully earned his place in the echelon of England-Australia rivalry.
Cook began the Ashes with 67 and an 235 in his first two innings of the opening Test in Brisbane as England secured a draw after being bowled out for 296 in the first innings. On the final day, in the company of Jonathan Trott, cook scored his maiden double-century while putting on 329 as the vistors declared at 517 for 1.
Nitin Chouhan: Gambhir is going to Australia after a forgettable tour of England.
That was just the beginning of a dream run that lasted throughout the Australian summer. Where before the Ashes he had been singled out as a 'weak link' in England's set-up, Cook broke a host of batting records over the five Tests and helped England retain the urn while exacting revenge for the 5-0 beating on their previous tour. His colossus contributions - 235 in Brisbane, 148 in Adelaide and 189 in Sydney - made in those seven innings turned out to be career-defining ones.
Gambhir, too, is going to Australia after a forgettable tour of England where he could only muster 102 runs in six innings as India were whitewashed 4-0, and a mediocre outing against an under-strength West Indies in which he could not convert any of the starts he got in five innings. So does Gambhir have the wherewithal to change his game in Australia? Will he be able to tackle the new breed of Australian fast bowlers - Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Patrick Cummins and Mitchell Starc?
Gambhir's eight-year-long career illustrates that whenever he is put under the pump, he has come out shining. The 2005-06 season was one such occasion. Having scored just 54 runs against the visiting Sri Lankans and only eight runs in the lone Test against Pakistan in 2007-08, Gambhir had a dream spell over the next five series.
The Delhi opener stamped his authority during the period by scoring eight centuries in the space of 10 Tests. If his 206 against Australia in Delhi in 2008 was an innings that showcased Gambhir's attacking abilities, then his 643-minute century to save a Test in Napier proved that he could also channel the patience of a saint. It's not just about the vital knocks Gambhir has played, but his ability to get under the skin of the opposition that makes him a fierce competitor.
What lies ahead is definitely the biggest challenge Gambhir has faced in his 44 Tests. Though the tracks in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Adelaide don't have the same sting they had about a decade back, they still are capable of testing the techniques of some of the world's best batsmen. Gambhir has often been found susceptible of playing away from his body, especially early on in his innings. Fending and poking at deliveries outside the off stump has led to his downfall on numerous occasions. Getting the better of these flaws before the Boxing Day Test could well be the difference between the success and the failure Gambhir will taste in the next month or so.
And just like Cook, who went to Australia after working on his flaws for hours with England batting coach Graham Gooch, Gambhir too will hope that his chats with India coach Duncan Fletcher, who has played a key role in improving the batting techniques of Gary Kirsten, Jacques Kallis, Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss, will come handy in the upcoming Test series.
Gambhir tasted success in Australia when he helped India win the 50-over competition on their last tour. But the time has come for him to replicate that success into the longer format. The onus will be on him, along with Virender Sehwag, to give India platforms which can be built further by the strong middle-order of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman. Last year Cook got etched his name in the record books; whether Gambhir does the same this time around will be a topic of much interest, if not a pivotal ingredient to India's fortunes.
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