S. Ram Mahesh

The Napier Test was a watershed event for Gautam Gambhir and Jesse Ryder

Ryder’s 201 in New Zealand’s first innings set the match up for the host

An enterprise that was sabotaged mainly by Gambhir’s 137 in India’s second innings

NAPIER: The two innings that most influenced the second Test — in itself a considerable achievement, for this was match enriched by several batsmen — came from the left-handed bats of Jesse Ryder and Gautam Gambhir.

Both innings, in review, are instructive, not just in relation to the match, but in terms of how they might affect their young authors.

Ryder’s 201 in New Zealand’s first innings set the match up for New Zealand — the number of runs as significant as the rate at which they were made. He gave New Zealand sufficient time to bowl India out twice, an enterprise sabotaged partly by the McLean Park playing strip but mainly by Gambhir’s 137 in India’s second innings.

Challenging perceptions

Ryder, 24, and Gambhir, 27, are so interesting because in their short careers they have already challenged perception multiple times. Ryder, to several cricket fans, was a heavyset basher, who could empty the odd bar when he wasn’t patronising it; good for a few ODIs against the Poms, but then, isn’t everyone?

Gambhir, in 2005, offered no evidence in support of those who raved about his ability. A forcing, over-keen bottom hand had him either falling over his front pad or thrusting misshapenly when driving.

Today, Ryder appears New Zealand’s most accomplished Test batsman, on course — fingers crossed — to joining Bert Sutcliffe, Glenn Turner, and Martin Crowe as the country’s finest ever.

New Zealand’s captain Daniel Vettori said after the first Test in Hamilton, in which Ryder made his maiden century, that perhaps the world would better appreciate the subtleties of the big man’s game after the innings.

After the double-hundred here, they are plain for everyone to see.

Striking features

The most striking features of Ryder’s batting (and these are revealed by technology) are how little the bat judders on impact (Ultra-Motion shots) and how often the ball strikes the middle (Hot Spot images).

The two virtues are related, for vibration is least when the sweet spot is found. But these are merely indicators that Ryder strikes an uncommonly clean ball; they don’t explain why he does it so consistently.

Those who know Ryder from when he grew up in Central Districts before going to play for Wellington speak of how he would find his batting rhythm even when he started cold. The first ball he faced in the nets would invariably be struck off the middle.

It has to do with the keenness of his eye, and how well co-ordinated it is with his hands, but Ryder’s economy of movement helps.

The stroke that best captured Ryder’s genius was a square drive off Ishant Sharma in Hamilton: he bent slightly at the knee to lower himself into the shot; simultaneously he shifted his back-foot out of the way to make way for his minimalist bat-swing, no more than a perfectly weighted punch.

Other-worldly

The time he had was other-worldly, for Ishant’s delivery registered an air-speed of 141 kmph.

The innings of 201 will have given Ryder the confidence that his methods work over prolonged durations against quality bowling attacks. As he later confessed, he had never batted that long in his life.

One isn’t sure if Gambhir has batted for nearly 11 hours before, for he didn’t address the press during the second Test, but he certainly hasn’t played a more important innings at this level. He has evidently worked on his technique.

Not only is the groove of his driving markedly different, he also seldom falls over when playing to leg these days. Confidence comes as a natural consequence of working hard on one’s game, and Gambhir’s return to international cricket has been assured.

That’s understating it — it has been sensational. He served notice of his capability against top-quality sides in the ODI tri-series in Australia in early 2008 before having a very profitable Test series in Sri Lanka and at home against Australia.

Gambhir’s belligerence

His ability against spin and the strength of his conviction have been the outstanding facets of his batting. But mostly, it is his belligerence that has caught the eye — his incredibly secure two-stepped advance to bowlers as fast as Brett Lee in Test cricket, for instance.

Not many were sure if Gambhir had it in him to bat in denial. But he did just that, trusting his defensive technique and the reserves of his concentration. As Rahul Dravid said, the innings will have taught Gambhir a lot about himself.

The joy that comes with staring doubt in the eye and succeeding is transformative. Both Ryder and Gambhir experienced that moment during the second Test. If all goes well, they’ll look back at it years from now as the moment that germinated very significant careers.

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