And then one day, he has had to make that decision. The man who played his cricket with immense pride and plenty of heart, with the fierce thought of doing it for his team and country and unflinchingly has decided to call it a day. Gautam Gambhir, aware that the passage of time spares none, has chosen to announce his retirement from all forms of the game.
He can look back at all that he has done with pride. His batsmanship, including his acute awareness of where his off-stump was, his competitive streak that saw him ask for no quarters let alone concede any, his quest to be the best he could be at all times and his ability to hold his own in a strong batting line-up combined to make him the player he was. Gusty, feisty and proud.
His opening partnership with the dashing Virender Sehwag’s – often called the Viru-Gauti show – will be remembered for the consistent productivity. The manner in which he dealt with having to be Sehwag’s partner was praiseworthy. It would not have been the easiest of tasks to have to curb his own aggressive instincts much of the time, but he did that without batting an eyelid.
He earned himself the reputation of being a big-match player after top-scoring in the ICC World Twenty20 2007 final and the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 final in Mumbai. The 75 against Pakistan in Johannesburg and 97 against Sri Lanka in Mumbai will be remembered for how he allowed the stroke-players to express themselves freely while not sacrificing his own hunger.
Yet, he was a pillar of India’s batting in Tests, especially between 2008 and 2012. In the wilderness in 2006 and nearly all of 2007, he returned to the XI after powerful display in the CB Series in Australian in 2008. He made a hundred each against Sri Lanka and Australia in that limited-over series and the confidence with which he batted forced the selectors to recall him.
I remember speaking with him at the Melbourne airport as the team made its way back home after beating Australia 2-0 in the best-of-three finals to win the triangular series. We discussed the possibility of his having played himself into the Test side. He looked at me questioningly and said: “You reckon?”
To be fair to the man, he did not taunt me when the selectors overlooked him during the home series against South Africa. Instead, he focused on doing a good fist of opening the innings for Delhi Daredevils in the IPL competition. And showing to the selectors that he was at the peak of his skills. Finally, he was given a chance against Australia, the world’s best side.
The 104 in the second innings in Mohali to set up a win against Australia was followed at the Feroz Shah Kotla with 206. Few batsmen have managed hundreds in back-to-back Tests against an attack that included Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson and Peter Siddle. These knocks will be the most reflective of his prowess and determination to earn the straps as a Test cricketer.
Of course, his long haul in Napier when India had to battle over the last two days to earn a draw after following on will be remembered. He was at the crease for 12 and three-quarters hours and scored 137, stitching together partnerships with Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman to ensure that the team could hold its head high.
My own favourite Gautam Gambhir on-field moment is from that double hundred at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi. He had battled his way to the 90s when Shane Watson bowled an inspired spell, using steepling bounce to challenge the left-hander. In fact, he forced Gautam Gambhir to take his eyes off one such delivery and found the outside edge to the third man fence.
It was in the bowler’s next over that Gambhir made a statement of intent. Batting at 99, he stepped out to Watson and hit him straight for a six to bring up his century in a manner that Sehwag would have been proud of. That audacious stroke made Australian captain Ricky Ponting take Watson off the attack, not bringing him on till the next day.
Away from international cricket, Gautam Gambhir was just as competitive in domestic cricket – be it Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy or IPL where he found success as Kolkata Knight Riders skipper. He will also be remembered for leading Delhi to the Ranji Trophy in 2008, including a century in the final, a journey that was instrumental in his getting back to Test cricket.
Come to think of it, none of this would have come true had he struck to his decision of giving up all cricket when he was not selected for the ICC Youth World Cup in Sri Lanka in 1999-2000. He was so distraught at having been overlooked, despite scoring plenty of runs, that he decided that cricket would not be worth his time and that he would focus on academic and business pursuits.
Hoping that an article in a newspaper against the selection would make a difference, his mother and uncle talked to a journalist to see if that ploy would work. The journalist knew better than to write a piece that could have virtually ended Gatuam Gambhir’s career. He spoke with the youngster and persuaded him to think of the larger goal of playing Tests and ODIs.
And now, after having scored 10324 runs for India across the three formats in a successful and satisfying career, Gautam Gambhir has decided to hang up his boots. He has been a loyal servant of the game, unafraid to wear his passion and patriotism on his sleeves while focusing on the task on hand. Indeed, he can look back at his career with satisfaction – and pride.
This article first appeared in BBC Hindi website. You can read it here. 1