Gambhir and Sehwag - As good as they come
Lions hunt in packs and so do wolves. There is another set of beings that hunt together as a pair – the ex-Indian openers; Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. It is on a sad note that I phrased them as ‘the ex-Indian openers’ since the impact they have had on Indian cricket cannot be quite defined. They carried the Indian batting on their shoulders for more than two years with their explosive partnerships that helped India in reaching the coveted number one position in Tests. Though that partnership is now defunct, their achievements would continue to be the benchmark for the future generations.
The tale of the pair begins on a bright note. Emerging from the same state, Sehwag and Gambhir complemented each other to absolute perfection. Gambhir appreciates the whims of Sehwag and Sehwag in turn understands how to travel along with the southpaw. Their association goes back to the year 2004, when Gambhir was selected for an important series against South Africa. They made immediate impact as they tore into the fiery South African bowling line up that included Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock. Gambhir (96 runs) was unlucky to miss out on a well-deserved hundred but the history was set in motion on that day when they reached the double-century partnership (218 runs).
There is a reason why I believe that they have complemented each other capably. It stems from the various styles that they employ while batting. While Gambhir is more of a grafter, Sehwag is the kind of batsman who goes hammer and tongs against the opposition. Gambhir has mentioned about the “Sehwag-Advantage” in numerous interviews. He states that having Sehwag blasting his way on the other end keeps the onus away from him and he finds that relaxing while trying to settle in. The right-left combination helps as well. Sehwag, on the hand believes that Gambhir is the best opener since Gavaskar to have played for India. The mutual respect they possess has enhanced their camaraderie and it has transformed into performances for the team.
Probably their association gathered steam in the year 2008. Gambhir, after his initial burst meandered away into the oblivion, before making a comeback in 2007. That is when his association with Sehwag grew into something significant. The series against Sri Lanka in 2008 when India were mauled by the spin-duo of Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan saw the coming together of Gambhir and Sehwag successfully.
After the defeat in the first Test, Gambhir and Sehwag put on a determined fight to score 167 runs for the first wicket. Sehwag was the chief contributor once again as he scored a magnificent double century. Gambhir was solid in his approach as he played the role of an anchor to perfection. It spared the Indians from humiliation as they fought back to win the match by a respectable margin. The interesting aspect of this partnership includes the fact that they scored more than half of the total runs scored.
The strength of their combination has aided India in their quest for domination. They have put India on the driver’s seat whenever they have fired, an aspect which was lacking for India in the past. Boasting of a world class middle-order, the only shortcoming of Indian batting order was the fragile opening slot. Many candidates were experimented before Gambhir and Sehwag.
The partnership blossomed very much after their heroics at Galle. England was their next target. Chennai is known to be a favourite hunting ground for Sehwag, what with the mammoth triple century that he scored against South Africa. Though this knock wasn’t as monumental as that, it carried more significance based on the context of the match. Chasing 387 for a win, and having only four sessions in hand, the opening duo strode out to accomplish the task that was considered impossible and risky. An early wicket could have shifted the momentum in the favour of England and Dravid’s form wasn’t an encouraging factor as well.
Gambhir was in a purple patch and it showed when he drove a half-volley through the covers to initiate the proceedings. It was Sehwag’s turn after that as he massacred the English bowlers for his score of 83. It came in quick time and Gambhir was equally fearless as he scored 66. That partnership turned the game around in our favour as the winning runs was gracefully marked with a Sachin ton.
It was probably after the South Africa tour in 2010/11, that the script started falling apart. The openers were fraught with injuries and their separation reduced their success rate considerably. Gambhir was battling injuries constantly and Sehwag was worse in comparison. He had lost his Midas touch by then and was visibly lacking the zeal to perform.
The England series in 2011 was their next assignment together. But they weren’t lucky enough to partner each other for long as Sehwag was out with an injury for the first half and Gambhir in the second. Their captaincy aspirations and the rift between themselves and Dhoni obstructed them from performing well.
In the two years since that fateful Test in South Africa, India has lacked a solid contribution from the top of the order. It has cost the team heavily. Gambhir lost his ‘I-grind-like-Dravid-to-score-runs ‘avatar that saw him rising to become number one ranked player in Tests. Sehwag lost his belligerence as he failed to terrorize the opponents as was his nature in the past. Since then, they have not managed a single noteworthy partnership.
Gambhir was the first one to be sacked after the selectors ran out of patience. He was dropped from the series against Australia and Sehwag was axed after being persisting with in two more Tests. The pair that swore to break all the records seem in dire straits as both the players are stranded at the crossroads of their career.
Gambhir could play for India if he decides to pull up his socks and perform but it is a completely different case with Sehwag. He is nearing 34 and his stroke making is not all what it used to be. He is clearly struggling to cope with international cricket and the selectors have merely put him out of his misery.
Though they have faded away, their impact on the Indians fans can’t be emulated by any other opening pair. They have provided us with immense joy and it was amazing to behold their camaraderie both on and off the field. Indian cricket would definitely miss the experience of these stalwarts as the selectors have decided to look past experience.
The selectors cannot be blamed since Sehwag and Gambhir were the root cause of their own downfall. They were callous and they took their place for granted. They would definitely be regretting their mistake, but time has run out on them. Whatever the future might hold for them, it is the combined contribution of them as a pair that was vital for India’s performance as a team and the World Cup victory. Their hard work would definitely be recognized and they would go down in history books as one of the great opening combinations to have ever materialized in the game. Take a bow!