Published on www.cricketnext.com on 24th May 2011

Once the IPL hoopla is over, the focus of the Indian cricket fan would doubtless shift instantaneously to the tour of the West Indies. Such is the non-stop nature of international cricket in present times that even the fans do not get much rest between series, let alone the players.

It is no wonder then that the Indian selectors have decided to field a team for the ODI series that would be without superstars Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, Zaheer Khan and Virender Sehwag. While the first three would get some badly needed time to rest aching bones, Sehwag would miss even the Test matches in the Caribbean and would get his shoulder repaired in the meantime. He hopes to be fit for the tour of England in the second half of the summer.

The choice of Gautam Gambhir as skipper for the ODIs against Darren Sammy’s side is also not surprising, given his performance as captain against the New Zealand team last year when India blanked the Kiwis 5-0 at home. Gambhir has also led Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) with distinction in the IPL and has shown signs of level headedness under pressure as a leader that are commensurate with his steady batsmanship.

Gambhir is a stroke maker par-excellence with the willow in hand but he is not an outright dasher. He gives the impression of being cold and calculated in his approach while piling on the runs, and a similar method is evident in his captaincy too. He has wrought in the changes for KKR at crucial intervals on the field in IPL 4 and has ensured that their campaign has been very fruitful for once.

Gambhir’s calm and pugnacious batting in the World Cup final, till he perished at 98 to his first agricultural shot, was as crucial to India’s successful chase as was Dhoni’s amazing blitzkrieg. His partnership with Virat Kohli after India had lost Sehwag and Tendulkar early was vital, as was his match-winning pairing with the skipper himself in that superb victory at Mumbai on April 2.

He is a gritty customer and opposition bowlers have often felt the need to needle him in order to get him out, but he has it in him to give it right back to them, both with the bat and otherwise.

The team at Gambhir’s command still appears formidable despite the absence of the aforementioned superstars. Gambhir himself, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli are among the best players in the world in this format and would be backed up by the varied talents of Yusuf Pathan, Rohit Sharma, Subramaniam Badrinath, Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar.

The West Indians are in the midst of a gripping contest with the mercurial Pakistanis these days, but might find the Indians a trifle too hot to handle, even at half-strength. Gautam Gambhir would surely do his best to ensure that the World Champions do not receive any dents in their formidable reputation on this tour.