Kane Williamson and Gautam Gambhir are set to return to action in the third and final Test between India and New Zealand starting on Saturday in Indore.
While Gambhir’s return to Test cricket after two years will be on expected lines after injuries to KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan, Williamson’s complete recovery from the flu, which kept him out of the second Test, will be a welcome relief for the struggling New Zealand side.
Williamson seemed fit and trained with his side on Thursday (October 6) at Holkar Cricket Stadium, although it was an optional session. He not only went through his batting drills, but also bowled his offspinners even though there was a bit of rain around. If he does return, he will take back the captaincy from Ross Taylor and Henry Nicholls will likely go back to the bench.
“Things are looking positive, the final confirmation will probably be tomorrow,” said Shane Jurgensen, New Zealand’s bowling coach. “He (Williamson) trained today and had a decent hit. We’ll have a look at him tomorrow, but it looks positive for now. Crossed fingers, our skipper will be back in the team. Having him around as our skipper will help. He’s quite a good player, isn’t he?”
Gambhir was the first to pad-up in India’s optional session and batted for close to two hours against an assortment of bowlers.
Interestingly, he had a much more open stance than before, stopping short of going the Shivnarine Chanderpaul way. It was perhaps a technical change to prevent himself from poking outside his off stump, something that has cost him dear many times in the past.
“One area that I’ve been observing is that Indian bowlers are very accurate and put a lot of pressure. They use subtle variations – Jadeja has certainly improved a lot. They obviously know the conditions well and use them well. We’ve been working on (replicating Indian spinners’ seam positions) before we came to India. It doesn’t come as naturally, as we bowl differently where we come from. But certainly the guys have been trying to get the natural variations (like the Indians). We’ve improved every game, especially Mitchell Santner, for such a young spinner.” – Shane Jurgensen
Gambhir, 34, has 4046 Test runs at 42.58 with nine centuries and 21 half-centuries, but went out of the side after scores of 4, 18, 0 and 3 in England in August 2014, when he was recalled after nearly 20 months in the wilderness.
He made his way back courtesy a successful Duleep Trophy 2016-17 last month, in which he made 356 runs in five innings, when Rahul hurt his hamstring during the first Test in Kanpur. Rahul’s replacement in the XI for the second Test in Kolkata, Dhawan, then suffered a minor fracture to his left thumb and has been put out of action for a while. Karun Nair has since been called up to the squad.
The return could, however, turn out to be a tricky one for Gambhir. India’s next Test assignment – the home series against England – is more than a month away, meaning there are high chances that the in-form Rahul will recover and take back his place.
The pressure of having perhaps just one match to prove himself, added with the fact that he has to fit into a side very different to the one he was a part of earlier, could be a factor, but the team management reiterated its faith in the experienced opener.
“I think Gautam Gambhir is a quality player,” said Sanjay Bangar, India’s batting coach. “What he has done really for himself, for the time he was out of the Indian team he kept on performing for his franchise and state side. When he got an opportunity in the Duleep Trophy, he was one of the top scorers there. That too against the pink ball which certain batsmen found difficult to pick.
“He has ticked all boxes. An untimely injury to KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan made sure that there is a place for him. He is something of a quality performer and has a proven record against spin bowling. And the number of Test matches we are going to play in India, he becomes an important player right at the top of the order.”
India have sealed the three-Test series 2-0 after comprehensive wins in the first two Tests.