Grit, his calling card

Cricket

For those in Delhi, Gautam Gambhir was a shy boy who was spoken highly in cricket circles of the city.

Gautam Gambhir’s international career had come to an abrupt halt long before his decision to retire from all forms of cricket recently. There will always be a sad undertone that there wasn’t a touch of finality to the career of one of the more feisty players to have represented India.  

It is hard to accept this fate for a batsman who did not put a foot wrong for three seasons -- 2008-2010 -- when he piled runs in heaps. It was a golden phase when he aggregated 2068 runs in just 15 Tests with nine centuries, was ICC’s Best Test Player in 2009, the leading run-getter for India for three consecutive series. That his career would last only 58 Test matches belies the mastery he presented in the middle.  

Worse, the batsman who produced one of India’s most famous ODI knocks to script the World Cup win in 2011, was once spoken about the next leader in the side, stopped at 158 ODIs. Call it destiny or bad luck, none would feel the pain more than Gambhir. It will, however, not take away his immense contribution to Indian cricket, the stubbornness he brought to his game and the character that he proved to be.

With fellow state-mate and swashbuckler Virender Sehwag, he made one of the finest opening pairs. On countless occasions, India’s success rested on the sparkling starts provided by the two. Sehwag, himself, was a fan of Gambhir’s straight drives.

For those in Delhi, Gambhir was a shy boy who was spoken highly in cricket circles of the city when he was still a school student. His coach at Modern School, Uday Gupte, remembered him as a determined cricketer and a “fantastic” leader.

“He was a very dynamic cricketer from his childhood. He was a very shy boy, tiny but full of talent, and very calm. I wanted him to play with seniors, so I used to make him bowl leg-spin. He used to flight the ball very well. He would open the innings, and take wickets also. He played straight. By the time he was in the eighth standard, he used to dominate the seniors, he was too good. He would often score a hundred before lunch. He never liked to be in a losing side. During his time in Modern School, he did very well and won many tournaments,” Gupte said.  

“He was selected in the first NCA team which also had Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Mohammad Kaif etc. From the beginning, he was a compact batsman. He was very hard working, regular with his training, very enthusiastic, eager to learn and always led from the front.” 

Another prominent coach, Sanjay Bhardwaj, who continues to be associated with him, raved about Gambhir’s competitive nature which one so often witnessed during his career. He never shied away from a challenge and was not averse to confronting the opponent. It became his hallmark during his successful captaincy for Delhi and the Indian Premier League team, Kolkata Knight Riders. “From the very beginning, he was a fighter. He would plead for matches against tough opponents. That has been his nature and that attitude reflected in his cricket too at the top level,” Bhardwaj said.  

“Once in an under-19 match against Punjab we needed to score 150 runs to win and we had just one wicket in hand. Gautam told me don’t worry I am there. He told the other batsman to stick around with him. You won’t believe that the other batsman faced 99 balls and scored one run, while Gautam made 149 runs and won us the match. He never feared pressure, instead, he used to revel under such situations.” 

“After the World Cup final knock I asked him wasn’t he feeling panicky after India lost three quick wickets, Gautam told me ‘I just thought I will win the match for India.”

In 2009, Gambhir’s 137 in Napier against New Zealand, battling for two days, to help India draw the Test remains a standout knock for the coach.

“In Napier, he batted for 11 hours. Who can forget his 90-odd against South Africa with an injured hand? He never thought he couldn’t achieve something,” Bharadwaj said. “His biggest quality was he was a great student of the game. Till the last match, he was discussing with me about batting etc. I can say that it is because of Gautam that I became a good coach because he constantly prodded me, asked questions. He told me, Sir eventually people will remember me for the runs I have scored.” 

Gambhir, like Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, expressed his gratitude to the coach by presenting Bhardwaj a car in 2008. “I still drive it,” said Bhardwaj.

Gambhir would always be known for his doughty batting, not always attractive but definitely effective, a combination of passion and aggression. His commitment could not have been better documented than his farewell first-class innings – a century against Andhra at the Kotla.

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