It’s not often that a batsman gets to 97 in the final of a cricket World Cup and gives a bowler the charge, aware that a century is there for the taking as the icing to a victorious campaign, and a special place in cricket history.
Yet, on 2 April, Gautam Gambhir strode down the pitch in a bid to club Sri Lankan pacer Thisara Perera, only to hear the rattle of the stumps.
So close: Gautam Gambhir leaves the ground after getting out for 97 runs during the cricket World Cup final match between India and Sri Lanka on 2 April.
As a packed Wankhede stadium crowd in Mumbai looked on in silence before recovering to give the 29-year-old left-hander a standing ovation, Gambhir replayed the stroke before heading back to the pavilion.
I had already played the innings in my head. I guess I had gone ahead,” India’s No. 3 batsman says. “Scoring the three runs to the century should have been easy, I should have got it. I always back myself when I am in the 90s. I didn’t sleep for three nights after that. MS (Mahendra Singh Dhoni) told me to get the three runs. But it just so happened that I had gone ahead (mentally)....like I had already reached it (the century mark).”
Skipper Dhoni remained unbeaten on 91 to guide India to their second ODI World Cup title after 28 years. Gambhir was a key member of India’s successful campaign, emerging as the side’s second-highest scorer in the tournament after Sachin Tendulkar (482), and sixth overall, with 393 runs that included four 50s, at a scoring rate of 85.06 (per 100 deliveries faced).
The triumph capped a tremendous comeback to international cricket for the Delhi batsman after he was overlooked for the previous edition of the competition in the West Indies in 2007.
God’s been kind to me,” Gambhir said in an interview before the inaugural match of the fourth season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). After three seasons with Delhi Daredevils, he is leading Kolkata Knight Riders in this edition. “I still can’t understand why I wasn’t picked (for the 2007 World Cup). No one gave me an explanation. I should have been on it,” he adds.
Ironically, as an 18-year-old in 2000, Gambhir missed the under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka, which India won under Mohammad Kaif’s captaincy, despite scoring heavily in junior cricket. In an under-19 Test the following year, he scored a double century against an England attack that included Chris Tremlett and Monty Panesar.
I took that setback (2007) positively and motivated myself to play and perform—and perform consistently. Playing for India is a huge motivation for me,” says Gambhir, who captained India in the recent ODI series against New Zealand at home.
“In the same year I was dropped for the Caribbean World Cup, I was part of the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup triumph and top-scored in the final. This time around, I top-scored in the final again and we won the World Cup in front of our home crowd. I guess, in the end, everything evens out in life.”
Gambhir’s rise as one of the top international batsmen across all formats of the game saw him emerge as the most expensive player at the IPL auction in January at $2.4 million (Rs 10.5 crore) for a two-year deal.
Gambhir has managed to carve out a niche for himself in the Indian top order that has three modern greats in Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag. In 2009, the left-hander was adjudged the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test player of the year for scoring 1,269 runs at 84.60 in eight Tests with five 100s and four 50s and was hailed by Sehwag as the best Indian Test opener since Sunil Gavaskar.
“I have cut down on flair, maybe flair is not meant for me. For me, it’s all about scoring runs. Maybe that’s what’s made me more consistent as a batsman,” says Gambhir, who has proved that he is capable of matching aggression with concentration for a longer innings.
On the 2009 tour of New Zealand, Gambhir batted for almost 11 hours for his century to save the Napier Test after India were forced to follow-on. Early this year, he laced grit with aggression to play back-to-the-wall knocks of 93 and 64 in Cape Town that enabled India to draw the final Test to square the series against South Africa.
Gambhir has improved vastly as a batsman over the past four seasons. He says he picked up a lot by observing the likes of Sehwag, Tendulkar and Dravid, but has retained his individuality.
“One needs to keep improving all the time, get better every day,” he says. “You need to know your game better if you are to be consistent over several years. Technically, it’s been about small changes; it’s more mental, It’s about what suits you—what suits me is what I do.”
“But my basic batting philosophy remains the same. I like to score runs. My intention is to score runs and do so quickly, be it T20, ODI or Test.
Gambhir is confident of KKR’s chances in the current IPL season despite the new set of players having had little time together ahead of the tournament, which began just six days after the World Cup.
“As professional cricketers, we know what is needed to take the team forward,” says the KKR captain. “We have a good side and have our plans and strategies in place against other teams,” he adds, without getting into details.
Gambhir says he is still unable to overcome the feeling of insecurity about his place in the national side despite having been the mainstay in one of the best batting line-ups in world cricket. “Mentally, I am still insecure, no matter what people think. Two or three failures and you can get dropped. I guess that keeps me hungry for runs,” he says.
So, despite his growing stardom, Gambhir is remarkably level headed. “I’ve realized that being accepted as a good human being is more important than stardom. Success is fleeting, (lasts) maybe a few years. But it is important to be remembered as a good individual.”
“That keeps me grounded,” he adds.
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