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‘Being an opener is challenging and openers must be fighters’

- A TELEGRAPH SPECIAL
- Gambhir opens up on the toughest job
Gautam Gambhir

Calcutta: Team India senior pro and the Kolkata Knight Riders captain, Gautam Gambhir, spoke to The Telegraph exclusively on opening the innings.

The following are excerpts

Q Is there an opener who made a big impression on you in the years before you played for India?

A Justin Langer. I used to watch him a lot and admired the fighter in him... He’d come out of difficult situations and was a tough character. Of course, I didn’t try and copy him, for I’m not one to copy anybody, but there were qualities in him which I admired... I quite liked the way he carried himself.

Virender Sehwag, in more recent times?

Viru’s record speaks for him... He’s a legend... With two triple hundreds in Test cricket, he can’t be otherwise.

What does it take to be a successful opener?

Temperament is the key and the temperament of openers is different to that of the middle-order batsmen... It’s difficult to express what one feels on facing the first ball in a Test match... You’re up against the new ball, up against quality fast bowlers... Also, you aren’t sure how the wicket will behave. Being an opener is challenging and openers must be fighters. Clearly, an opener has to be tough.

While you open in Tests, you often bat at No.3 in ODIs and in T20s. Does your mindset change a lot?

It’s good that I can both open the batting and do duty at No.3... My game, fortunately, suits both numbers. If you look at the final of the last World Cup, I went in to bat on the very third ball... One down for zero has its own pressure, it’s different from opening the innings... I had to look at building partnerships. If a No.3 walks in at 150 for one, then the approach has to be different, it’s about building on the momentum. No.3 is a tough position, but opening in Test cricket is the toughest.

Despite years of international experience, do you still have that butterflies in the stomach feeling before facing the first delivery?

More than anyone in the team... I don’t think anyone is as nervous as I am... But, maybe, that’s what keeps me on my toes... Keeps me ‘alive’... Maybe, that’s why I’m never complacent... I’m hard on myself, for I feel I need to give a 100 per cent in every game. I’ll have nerves even if I’ve got a hundred in the last outing.

How long does it take you to settle down? A few balls? A four-fetching hit?

Depends, I can’t mention anything in particular... At times, my nerves don’t soothe till I’ve got to a fifty... On other occasions, I could be fine after 10 balls... There have also been times when a (good) defensive shot has done the trick.

A Sehwag doesn’t look at the wicket in the lead-up to a match, while Matthew Hayden would shadow-bat for long. What’s your approach?

(Smiles) I do study the wicket.

As part of your mental preparation?

Absolutely. I do have a good look, visualise things... Tell myself that the wicket in question may not encourage certain shots... I do need to have a feel of the ground.

What’s the No.1 challenge for openers?

Playing the new ball, for you don’t know how it’s going to behave... Believe me, it’s not easy if you’ve been on the field for almost two days and need to open after 10 minutes, facing bowlers who could be hurling the cherry at around 150 (kmph)... I doubt if anything can be more satisfying than getting big runs as an opener.

Can openers be made, so to say, or they’ve got to start as openers?

Of course openers can be made. My first three hundreds in the Ranji Trophy were while batting at No.3/No. 4. I used to hate waiting for my turn and I’d get hyper. I thought it’s better to open!

You’ve played in different countries and in different conditions. Have you been troubled by any one bowler?

Morne Morkel. Facing him was my toughest challenge on our last tour of South Africa, in 2010-11... On the 2006-07 tour there, when I didn’t play in the Test series, somebody had written that I’d be a sitting duck... I didn’t forget that article and it motivated me to do well (in 2010-11)... I had to work very hard to counter Morkel and Dale Steyn.

[Gambhir averaged 60.50 in the two Tests that he played on the last tour of South Africa.]

As a pair, then, have they been the most difficult to face?

Yes... Morkel for the bounce he generates... As for Steyn, well, he’s just such a quality bowler. More than proving anything to anybody, I’d like to prove to myself that I can keep scoring in different conditions. To do that, I’ve got to be ready for Morkel and Steyn.

The last one... What must the young openers remember?

That technique is most important... If you don’t have the technique to survive the new ball, then even being very tough mentally won’t help. Having said that, to succeed as an opener in Test cricket, you need to be courageous.