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Going into the New Zealand Test series it was important for Gambhir to score runs. He responded with two half-centuries. His back-to-back hundreds in the ODIs, the second an unbeaten 126 against New Zealand on Saturday, signalled the openerís return to form. The nine-wicket win over the hapless visitors also kept Gambhirís 100 per cent captaincy record intact.
With scores of 38, 138 not out and Saturdayís effort on Saturday, Gambhir has not only led from the front with the bat, but the 3-0 scoreline suggests he has indeed enjoyed his stint as stand-in skipper. Another batsman in prime form, Virat Kohli hit the winning runs, a six over long-on, off the bowling of New Zealandís fastest bowler Andy McKay, which turned out to be one of the highlights of this contest.
Gambhir, sensing that the New Zealand batsmen would find it difficult to score runs, kept attacking fields even after the 15th over when off-break bowler Ravichandran Ashwin plied his trade. Here was a skipper who didnít mind staying aggressive as long as his bowlers were finding the right lines and lengths.
Quicks Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel didnít allow the Black Caps to score too many runs while the slower bowlers, Ashwin and Yusuf Pathan, cut out scoring opportunities. The confidence the skipper showed in keeping fielders in catching areas allowed the bowlers to attack more often then they would have in this format of the game.
Zaheer, returning to the ODI side for the last three games before the all-important series in South Africa ó starting with the Test series ó commenced well by getting rid of the dangerous Brendon McCullum early, while the skipper himself added to the visitorsí misery when his direct throw from mid-on found Martin Guptill short of his ground.
Pacers on target
Munaf, always a tricky proposition for batsmen when he is in form, finished with one for 28 in his 10 overs. He trapped New Zealandís Kane Williamson in front of the stumps with a ball that moved in. Zaheerís figures of two for 31 would have given the team management some relief as the pace bowler, key to Indiaís fortunes in South Africa,was coming back after recovering from a groin injury.
Nathan McCullum and James Franklin dug New Zealand out of trouble ó from 106 for seven to 200 for eight ó but when the wicket eased out as the day wore on, the target of 225 never bothered India as Gambhir and Kohli played with ease.
During the chase, India got off to a good start as Gambhir, the more aggressive of the two, hit Andy McKay for three consecutive boundaries, while adding 115 for the first wicket with opener Murali Vijay. The skipper and Kohli put on an unbeaten 114 to take India home.
With 302 runs in three matches, Gambhir has been the star of this series so far.
ďFor me, batting and captaincy are not related. As an opener my job is to score runs and Iím doing that,Ē Gambhir said on Saturday. For a man who was watching the action from the sideline till a few weeks back, this has been a quick and welcome return to form.