A stirring tale of grit

Personality:

On song: Gautam Gambhir says he has lots to achieve before he lays down his willow.  Some two years back, Gautam Gambhir’s international career was at the crossroads. Despite making his Test debut as early as in 2004, he seemed to be going nowhere, unable to make the most of sporadic opportunities and struggling to express his talent.

Like so many others before him, the left-handed opener threatened to fade away, seemingly undone by technical inadequacies, a quirky selection policy and the acceptable success of the Virender Sehwag-Wasim Jaffer tandem.

Not even fortune was on his side. Short-listed in a 24-man squad for the Test tour of Australia in December 2007, Gambhir sustained a shoulder injury that allowed Jaffer an extended run at the highest level, the Delhiite’s second disappointment that year after being overlooked for the World Cup in the Caribbean.

The omission from the World Cup squad was his self-confessed darkest moment, a development that forced him to contemplate giving up the game for good. With his family and close friends rallying around him, the introspective and intelligent young man realised that cricket was his lifeblood, and that he had two choices ahead of him – enjoy playing the game, or brood over missed opportunities and approach something he loved with less than a hundred percent commitment.

The choice all too obvious, Gambhir has since turned over a new leaf. His crowning as the ICC Test Player of the Year is the ultimate vindication of his belief in himself, a stirring tale of grit and spirit.

Gambhir first convinced himself that he belonged at the highest level with two hundreds in the tri-series in Australia early last year. Self-doubt can be a crippling, indeed debilitating affliction; the gremlins having been despatched in Australia, Gambhir set about establishing himself as a key member of the Test squad as well, the Test Player of the Year award the official seal of approval from an elite and well-respected electoral college.

Sri Lanka last year provided the first glimpse of the new-look Gambhir, all attitude and aggression, his technique tighter, his mind lighter and his feet quicker. It helped that through his journey of self discovery, he had a great mate at the other end. The Sehwag-Gambhir relationship is an excellent example of the wonders understanding and acceptance can trigger. Through thick and thin, in moments of joy and hours of strife, Sehwag stood by his old friend, coaxing, cajoling, goading and prodding him on to higher deeds that Sehwag himself is no stranger to.

The Gambhir that used to fall over in trying to work the ball to leg, thereby setting himself up as the perfect leg before candidate, was conspicuous by his absence. The uncertainty outside the off-stump had given way to a more assured awareness of which balls to play at and which ones to leave alone, and heightened self-confidence translated itself into dancing down the track even to the quicker bowlers in a bid to take swing and seam out of the equation.

While the floodgates didn’t exactly open in Sri Lanka, Gambhir was one of the few Indian batsmen that negotiated the Mendis-Muralitharan minefield with felicity. It was only a matter of time before the torrent, and that came at home, against Australia.

Quickly stacking up a reputation as a ‘fifties’ man, Gambhir turned the corner with a second-innings century in Mohali. It was just the tonic the young man needed, a fillip that drove him to greater deeds, including a double century at his home patch, the Ferozeshah Kotla, in the next Test and a memorable, match-saving, series-winning ten and a half-hour marathon 137 in Napier that revealed a new facet of his batting.

Gambhir has benefited too from the immense faith shown in him by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, under whose tutelage the left-hander has established himself as one of the few certainties in all three formats of the game.

Only Rahul Dravid of India’s glittering array of batting superstars has won the Test Player award before, in 2004, and it was befitting that the man called the ‘Second Wall’ by Sehwag after his Napier heroics should emulate his former captain.

“It’s an absolutely great feeling, a great honour to follow in the footsteps of one of the true legends of the game,” said Gambhir, who amassed 1269 runs in eight Tests with five hundreds and four fifties for an average of 84.6 during the 12-month voting period between August 2008 and this August.

“For me, it is a dream come true. Every run I have scored for the country is very special. To share a dressing room and the batting crease with someone like Sachin, the greatest batsman in the world, has helped me a lot,” added Gambhir, who received his award from another living legend, Sunil Gavaskar.

Already this year, the little man who will turn 28 on October 14 has received the Arjuna Award, and now this ICC honour. What next? “I have never played for goals and records,” he came back. “It’s all about the team, trying to win matches for the country. This is a team sport, my ambition is to keep the country’s flag flying high. That’s why I am bitterly disappointed at not finishing off the match against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy when I was batting so well.”

No resting on laurels, no basking in past glory. This Gautam Gambhir, he sure is a man on a mission!


Gambhir fact file

* Born: October 14, 1981 at New Delhi.

* Test debut: vs Australia, Mumbai,     mber 2004.

* ODI debut: vs Bangladesh, Dhaka,   April 2003.

* Test match record:  Matches: 25. Runs: 2271. Average: 54.07

*ODI record:  Matches: 81. Runs: 2657. Average: 37.42

* Record from August ’08 to August ’09:   Tests: 8. Runs: 1269. Average: 84.6.

     Five hundreds, four fifties.

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