Wellington:Five years ago, Gautam Gambhir was a nondescript 24-year-old, nervous and jittery on the eve of his Test debut against Ricky Ponting's Australia at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai in November 2004.
Now, he has emerged as one among the most respected and productive batsmen in international cricket, someone whom bowlers hate to see at the square.
For, the feisty left-hander either daintily walks down the aisle to disdainfully swat them over the top, or brings them on their haunches with his dour defence, as he did at the Mclean Park over six sessions, making a stodgy 137 in 642 minutes.
If New Zealand's fast bowlers would be sore before the final Test at Wellington on Friday, it could be attributed to Gambhir's resilience and sage-like temperament. Though the Kiwis tried every trick they could conjure, they scarcely went past his broad bat during his marathon essay at Napier.
If there has been concern that India may struggle with their batting when Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman retire, Gambhir offers assurance that he could last long hours at the wicket, as the awesome trio of Indian cricket have done over the years, extricating India out of trouble or batting them to memorable victories away from home.
Gambhir may lack the class, skill and elan of a Tendulkar or a Laxman, but he certainly has the fortitude, character and temperament of a Rahul Dravid and the chutzpah of a Virender Sehwag.
Like his Delhi teammate, he cares little for a bowler's reputation, carting the ball around the park with gay abandon. And like Dravid, he can wear the bowlers down, mentally and physically before getting on top of them.
This oriental mix of patience and aggression is something which bowlers will have to live with as long as Gambhir is around.
"He showed a lot of character. An innings like this will go a long way in a young career. He showed he could read situations and play accordingly. It will give him a lot of confidence," said Dravid, who had reserved his comments on Gambhir when the youngster had smashed a double hundred before tea against Zimbabwe at Vishakapatnam in the 2000-01.
"The wicket here is flat and even. We will have to see how he fares on decks where the ball seams and bounces," Dravid, as captain, had said on that occasion.
Today, he is more than convinced that Gambhir has earned his stripes in international cricket. "He is a tough little kid who can go a long way," said Dravid.
The stout-hearted and fearless 27-year-old has amassed nearly 1389 runs in Test cricket, including a double hundred against Australia, over the last nine months, since making a comeback in the series against Sri Lanka in July 2008.
Though critics assumed that he was more a long-innings player than one suited for the truncated version, Gambhir has done remarkably well in limited overs and Twenty20 formats as well, the belligerent 150 against Sri Lanka reflecting his inert aggressive trait.
Like most batsmen do, Gambhir too has technical glitches in his batting armour, the chip drive to mid-on being his obvious flaw.
Nevertheless, it hasn't suppressed his instinct to step out and hit the bowler over the top, though he lives dangerously in these moments of daringness at the crease.
Encouragingly, he isn't shy to seek help in moments of darkness or self-doubt. Short of runs in the T20s and ODIs here, he had long, serious chat with physical and mental conditioning trainer Paddy Upton before the first Test at Hamilton.
The results have been excellent, reflected in performance in the Test series: 72 and 30 at Seddon Park; 16 and 137 at McLean Park.
The care he has taken to harness his career and the manner in which he has batted since making a comeback, Gambhir certainly is marked for big achievements in international cricket. Let's hope he does.