The rollercoaster ride has finally come to an end
The top scorer of India's twin successful World Cup finals has bid adieu to the game of cricket. It is time that we recognize and cherish the career of India's unsung hero, Gautam Gambhir. The man who's career resembled a typical Bollywood flick, comprising of glamour, passion, drama, excitement and full of ups and downs.
Gautam Gambhir made his international debut in 2003 under the then Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly. He was awarded the man of the match in his debut ODI game for India against Bangladesh for scoring 71 runs, and subsequently made his Test debut against Australia in 2004.
He, however, did not get off to a good start in his Test career and after a string of low scores, he was dropped from the team. His ODI career, however, remained unaffected by and large during 2005-2007, which made him a strong contender to make the final squad for the 2007 World cup. But the selectors favored the troika of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, and Virender Sehwag as the openers for the 2007 World Cup.
Gambhir, true to his name in Hindi, became very Gambhir after being left out of the 2007 World Cup squad. To such an extent that he contemplated retirement, after having left with no motivation to play the game of cricket. His career, however, took a remarkable turnaround in the same year, when he was selected to open the batting for India in the Inaugural World T20 tournament in the absence of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, and Rahul Dravid. He was the top run-getter of the tournament along with scoring the most valuable 75 runs in the finals against arch-rivals Pakistan to take India to victory.
The World T20 provided a massive boost to his international career, after which he cemented his place in the Indian team as an opener in Test and T20 formats, and juggling between the opener and the No.3 slot in the ODI format. He went on to be the leading run-scorer in the historic CB series triumph for India in Australia in 2008.
The Indian Test team achieved the zenith of world rankings in 2009, with Gautam Gambhir being the pioneer in India's successes at home against Australia and England, along with beating New Zealand in New Zealand for the first time in 41 years, by scoring the most runs in those tournaments.
Gambhir, in 2011, played his first and the only 50 overs World Cup and scored 97 runs off 122 balls to help India beat Sri Lanka in the finals. The situation in which he scored those runs is of massive importance as India had lost Sehwag in the very first over of the game and lost their superstar batsman Sachin Tendulkar with just 14 runs on the board, chasing 275.
Playing with utmost grit and resolve, fighting fire with fire and taking each run with the utmost caution, Gambhir played an extraordinary innings to give the chase its much-needed momentum. That knock, unfortunately, was overshadowed by the glamour and blitz of MS Dhoni's innings, in which he scored 91 runs to be awarded the Man of the Match. The innings of Gautam Gambhir only had laid the platform for Dhoni to come out and finish the match in that fashion.
He also went on to claim some fabulous records in Test cricket, by scoring hundreds in 5 consecutive Test matches for India. He was also awarded the Cricketer of the Year in 2009 for the stellar year he had while opening the batting for India.
One innings that defined Gautam Gambhir, the person along with the batsman, was the one he played in Napier in 2009, where he took India out of the doldrums and batted for 2 and a half days to save the Test match for India. The passion and the resilience that he displayed in that innings was very rare to see among the modern players and he pushed himself completely out of his own comfort zone to build that innings for his country. He even went a session without scoring a single run, which is a testament to his patience.
The rise gave way to his downfall in 2012, in the same CB series that had made him the player that he was. He, along with Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, were rotated match by match by captain Dhoni in order to bring in players who were good fielders, keeping in mind the 2015 World Cup. This rotation was unfair on Gambhir, as his other skills apart from fielding made him one of the best cricketers in the game. He was just a bit slow on the field but made up for that in catching and throwing which was deemed to be of less importance for the Indian captain and the team management.
He and Virender Sehwag formed the best opening pair for India in Tests ever, recording an average of 63.25 and the second best ever in the world in terms of average. India's current struggle with the opening combinations is the direct result of their inability to find a replacement for Gambhir and Sehwag.
Although Gambhir did make a comeback in 2016 to fill the opening slot, he was dropped in spite of putting in good, consistent performances. Indian cricket could have never had the opening crisis that it is currently going through if they had backed Gambhir in his dry run of form and showed more faith in him to play more freely as a batsman. These unfortunate incidents brought an end to a stellar career in Test cricket for Gautam Gambhir.
The leadership skills of Gautam Gambhir were also second to none. He led his IPL franchise, Kolkata Knight Riders to 2 IPL titles, and was the captain of the team that won 10 consecutive games to win the IPL in 2014. Indian cricket never got to see the leadership skills of Gautam Gambhir, which could have been very handy for India, especially in Test Cricket when India famously got whitewashed in the tours of England and Australia in 2011-12.
Gambhir did lead India in a 5 match ODI series at home against New Zealand in 2010, with several players missing. The result of that series emphasized his leadership skills and called out to the team management to take note of it. India won that series 5-0, with Gambhir leading from the front with his bat and even scoring a vital 150 in the fourth game in Kolkata.
Gambhir was one of India's best batsmen to play the game of cricket and as Virender Sehwag mentions, one of India's best ever openers after Sunil Gavaskar. His passion mixed with aggression, together with his steely resolve and humungous appetite for runs, makes him a stalwart of Indian cricket.
The real cricket fans, who have appreciated the Napier knock and the 2011 world cup final innings, know how important Gambhir was to Indian cricket and how unfortunate he was in not getting his due both as a player and as a leader. Sudden loss of form, along with his relationship with the captain and team management cut short a career which could have catapulted him into the list of India's biggest legends.
Gambhir also deserves a mention in the same space as that of the Fab 5 of Indian Cricket between 2005 and 2015. Indian cricket fans should celebrate this stellar career and provide inspiration to the upcoming Indian talent to model their game around this fine cricketer called Gautam Gambhir.