KOLKATA: Veteran Indian opener Gautam Gambhir will look to roll back the years following his shock recall for the second Test against New Zealand starting Friday after more than two years in the wilderness.
After taking a 1-0 lead earlier this week in the opening match of the three-Test series in Kanpur, India can both clinch the series and seal their return to the top of the world rankings at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.
In picking Gambhir, who turns 35 in a fortnight, the selectors have gone for a man who has vast experience of India’s largest venue as skipper of the Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
“Nothing beats playing again for the country. Test cricket, whites, red ball and India cap again,” Gambhir said on Twitter after his surprise recall was announced on Tuesday night.
Excitement of a debutant, certainty of experienced, nervousness of a novice…am feeling it all. Eden here I come loaded with ambitions.
— Gautam Gambhir (@GautamGambhir) September 27, 2016
“Excitement of a debutant, certainty of experienced, nervousness of a novice…am feeling it all. Eden here I come loaded with ambitions.”
Gambhir, who is 13th on the list of all-time Indian run-scorers in Tests, is guaranteed a place in the starting XI after being called up in place of the injured Lokesh Rahul for the remainder of the series.
The aggressive left-hander, who made his name as half of an explosive opening partnership with the now retired Virender Sehwag, played the last of his 56 Tests on India’s tour of England in the summer of 2014.
But after averaging over 70 in the recent Duleep Trophy domestic championship, he has been given a surprise opportunity to revive his international career.
Apart from Gambhir’s call-up, India could also be tempted to pick an extra bowler following their thumping victory in the Kanpur Test which ended on Monday with a 197-run victory over the Black Caps.
India mull extra bowler
The spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja shared 16 wickets in Kanpur but the pitch in Kolkata is expected to be more conducive to seam and skipper Virat Kohli has hinted that he may pick an extra bowler.
“Kolkata might not be as slow or turn as much as Kanpur did. We know Kolkata is a much better batting wicket, so we can afford to maybe play an extra bowler there, you never know,” said Kohli.
While Kohli had a disappointing Test in Kanpur with the bat, most of India’s top-order showed good form, with opener Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara striking half-centuries in both the innings.
The skipper said that the first Test had given his side a confidence boost but warned against complacency.
“They are very smart about their cricket and they believe in their abilities and that shows on the field. So we do take an advantage in the second game, but we’re taking nothing for granted,” he said.
The visitors had their moments in the first Test and, at one stage, appeared set for a significant first innings lead after skipper Kane Williamson and Tom Latham put together a 124-run partnership.
But after being 159-1, they slumped to 262 all out, with their last five wickets falling for just seven runs.
“We want to be better, and if we are that goes a long way to us being more consistent throughout the five days and ultimately winning,” said Williamson.
“That’s the challenge for us. It is about improvement as a young, but very talented, side. For us going to the next one it’s about learning quickly and moving forward.”
After Mark Craig was ruled out of the series with a side strain, the Black Caps could turn to Jeetan Patel, who has also been called up after a three-year absence, as a like-for-like replacement.
The Black Caps though would be concerned about opener Martin Guptill’s double failure in the first Test, which extended the right-handed batsman’s recent miserable run of form.
India are only one point behind Pakistan in the rankings and so a series victory would guarantee that they reclaim the top spot given that their arch rivals are tied up in an ODI series against the West Indies.