Friday, 5 February 2010

The Gambhir Factor

This article has been published here.

India's march towards the top of the heap in the Test tables started in October 2008, which was when Australia toured India for a four-Test series. From the start of that series, till now, India has not lost a single Test match. They have played 14 Test matches starting from then, across three countries and two continents, and have not lost a single one since.

India's top seven batsmen in the batting line-up have not changed much since the start of that journey. Sourav Ganguly retired after the Australia series, and hence figured in the first four Test matches, but with Yuvraj Singh replacing him, the line-up of Gambhir, Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Yuvraj and Dhoni has remained more or less constant - barring injuries, suspensions etc.

With batting being India's stronger suit by far, it has often been the weight of the runs the batsmen have scored in this period that has either set up wins or prevented defeats. Here is a look at how the top seven performed since October 2008:

PlayerMatchesInningsNot OutsRunsAverageHighest100s50s
Gautam Gambhir 12 232 1758 83.71206 85
Virender Sehwag 14 25 1 1244 51.83293 27
Rahul Dravid 14 242 1149 52.2317746
Sachin Tendulkar 14 244 1357 67.8516065
VVS Laxman 13 22 6 993 62.06 200*28
Yuvraj Singh 10 14 2 532 44.33 8605
MS Dhoni 12 16 3 847 65.1511028

Gautam Gambhir clearly dominates the table. He has missed two matches - one due to a suspension when he was provoked into elbowing Shane Watson, and one to attend his sister's marriage - but he still leads the charts in runs scored, average and number of centuries. The others have contributed no doubt, but nobody's contribution has matched the strength and consistency of Gambhir's. Tendulkar has been solid throughout, but has lacked a big innings. Dravid has seen ups and downs - the last of his wretched form was in the first four Tests in this period, after which he re-emerged as the old Dravid. Sehwag has blasted the bowling, but has also self-destructed at some key moments. Laxman has been contributing quietly, but has lacked a match-winning effort (that may be partly due to the position he bats in), while Dhoni has not batted enough, and Yuvraj has not scored enough. Only Gambhir has had all the check-boxes ticked against his name: he has dug in to play a long match-saving innings, he has not endured a single spell of poor form, he has scored match-winning innings, he has always put a premium price on his wicket, and he has scored runs by the buckets against every opposition and in every condition that India have played in during this time period.

Further analysis, demonstrates Gambhir's consistency better. Here is a look at how the top seven have performed in matches that India have won and matches that India have drawn:

PlayerMatchesTotal RunsRuns in WinsAverage in WinsRuns in DrawsAverage in Draws
Gautam Gambhir12175873281.33102685.50
Virender Sehwag14124497681.3326822.33
Rahul Dravid14114948048.0066955.75
Sachin Tendulkar14135787697.3348143.72
VVS Laxman1399336140.1163290.28
Yuvraj Singh1053224841.3328447.33
MS Dhoni1284756480.5728347.16

Again, only Gambhir has demonstrated outstanding excellence in both won matches as well as drawn matches. Sehwag has been outstanding in wins and pedestrian in draws; Dravid has been solid in both without being outstanding in either; Tendulkar has shone like no other in victories, but has been middling in draws, while the opposite is true for Laxman. Yuvraj and Dhoni have once again not scored enough and batted enough.

Gambhir has revelled in all situations, whether under pressure or free of it, whether setting up a match or finishing it, whether chasing a large target or digging in. The table below illustrates the performance of the top seven in the first Team innings (which comprise the 1st and 2nd innings of the match, depending on when India batted) and the second Team innings (which comprise the 3rd and 4th innings of the match, again depending on when India batted).

PlayerMatchesRuns1st Inns Runs1st Inns Avg2nd Inns Runs2nd Inns Avg
Gautam Gambhir12175886271.8389699.55
Virender Sehwag14124481057.8543443.40
Rahul Dravid14114993471.8421523.88
Sachin Tendulkar14135794272.4641559.28
VVS Laxman1399354245.16451112.75
Yuvraj Singh1053224226.8829096.66
MS Dhoni1284766860.7217989.50

Perhaps nothing encapsulates Gambhir's value to Team India by the figure in "Average in 2nd Inns" column. Gambhir has averaged an astounding 99.55 in the second innings of matches played in the time period. It is almost as on the rare occasions that he has failed in the first innings, he has taken it as a personal insult, and decided to dig in and make the opposition pay for the grave error of dismissing him cheaply!

The fact that he is an opener is what makes that average so outstanding. Although Laxman has a higher average, he has had a lot more opportunity than Gambhir to be there when matches end, and thereby get a not out against his name. Gambhir has managed his feat by coming in at the top of the order. Even Bradman would have been impressed.

And though Gambhir narrowly failed to emulate Bradman's feat of centuries in six consecutive Tests, he did equal the feat of another batting legend - Viv Richards - in scoring a half-century for the 11th consecutive Test. He will now have a chance to make the record his own if he scores more than fifty in an innings in the first Test against South Africa. At the rate he is going currently, the odds of Gambhir failing to score a fifty should be roughly the same as the odds that Pakistan cricket functions chaos-free for the next six months.

Photos courtesy Cricbuzz.

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