In what looks like a definite move to resurrect his international career, India's opening batsman Gautam Gambhir has signed for Essex until the end of the season.
He replaces New Zealand's Hamish Rutherford, who will return home after the Twenty20 finals day, as Essex's second overseas player. Gambhir's move also helps Essex in their bid for promotion to Division One of the County Championship.
Gambhir, who hasn't played for India since the fourth Test match against England last year, will in all likelihood make his Essex debut against Northamptonshire on August 20th. He said (via the Daily Telegraph):
I am delighted to have this chance to make my county cricket debut with Essex. After the IPL ended, I was looking to play some competitive cricket and playing for Essex will give me that opportunity.
He was earlier overlooked by the national selectors for the ongoing India A tour of South Africa and even the 'other' India A home series against New Zealand, due to start later this month. The selection committee reportedly gave a green light when Gambhir approached them for a county stint, which he believes will improve his chances of making India's squad for the year-end tour of South Africa.
The BCCI, which in the last five years or so hasn't been overtly welcoming of Indian cricketers participating in county cricket (due to its wrangles with the ECB and issues such as "burnout") softened its stand and gave a no-objection certificate to Gambhir to rediscover his form.
If Gambhir scores heavily for Essex, and follows it up with big scores for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy matches prior to the South Africa tour, he's certain to make the squad.
He would do so as a third opener along with Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, currently India's first-choice pairing. Earlier this summer, Gambhir worked closely with former India opener WV Raman to iron out his technical deficiencies. His problems were mainly about falling over and, later, a fidgety approach to run-making. Looking to dab the ball to third man, he would get bowled by chopping the ball onto his stumps or get caught in the slips chasing a loose ball outside off because his release shot wasn't coming about.
The county stint with Essex will give Gambhir a chance to put his work with Raman into practice, in a match situation and against decent first-class bowlers. The county cricket schedule, which is strenuous to say the least, will ensure that Gambhir plays one or two games a week: for someone desperately searching for game time, there is nothing better than a stint in England.
The deal also gives Gambhir the chance to improve upon his poor record in England (three Tests, 102 runs at an average of 17). If you compare it to his overall record, it doesn't make good reading.
What's undeniable in Gambhir's progression as a cricketer is his inherent appetite for runs. Wickets in England are dying out towards what is the end of the season, which could suit Gambhir's style of run-making; the fear of the swinging ball at the start of the season may well have disappeared.
As someone who's always been rated as one of the finest players of spin in India, his skills could come in rather handy, just as wickets in England start taking turn at this time of the year. Most importantly, his motivation to win back what he believes is his rightful place in India's Test XI could lead to strong performances for Essex.
Besides Gambhir, leg-spinner Piyush Chawla will also be heading over to England for a similar stint with Somerset till the end of the season. Chawla, who played for Sussex in 2009, will be looking to regain his place in India's spin-bowling pecking order after being displaced by Amit Mishra, whose performances in Zimbabwe have represented a massive turnaround in his international fortunes.
During his time with Sussex, a stint which could be considered a great success, he picked 36 wickets in six County Championship matches with four five-wicket hauls and, as batsman, scored an unbeaten 102. Given the wickets at Taunton, Chawla's skill could come in handy for Somerset, who will be looking to assure themselves of a Division One place next year.
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