Gautam Gambir was a vital cog in the Indian batting line-up for almost a decade across all formats of the game. He managed to carve a niche for himself in an era that was dominated by five of the all-time great Indian batsmen - Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Saurav Ganguly, and Virender Sehwag.
Gambhir was in the fore-front during some of India's most historical cricketing moments during this period. Apart from being the top scorer for India in the finals of both the 2007 T20 World Cup and 2011 ODI World Cup, he played many match-winning knocks in ODIs and T20Is.
He showed his prowess even in the red ball game across the world and forged a reliable opening partnership with Sehwag. Gambhir holds the distinction of being the only Indian cricketer to have scored a century in five consecutive Test matches and the only Indian to aggregate more than 300 runs in four consecutive Test series. His phenomenal consistency in the test format helped him attain the top spot among batsmen in the ICC test rankings and it was further embellished when he was named the ICC test player of the year for 2009.
For the record, Gambhir aggregated more than 10000 runs in international cricket - 4154 runs in 58 test matches with the highest score of 206, 5238 runs in 147 ODIs at an average of nearly 40 with the highest score of 150* and 932 runs in 37 T20Is with the highest score of 75 coming in the T20 World Cup final.
Let us relive one memorable inning of Gambhir from each of the 3 formats of the game.
75 vs Pakistan in the T20 World Cup Final 2007
India faced Pakistan in the final of the inaugural ICC T20 World Cup at Johannesburg on 24th September 2007. MS Dhoni, the Indian captain, won the toss and elected to bat. With Sehwag being indisposed and not part of the playing XI, the onus was on Gambhir to give India a good start in the company of the debutant Yusuf Pathan.
Yusuf struck a couple of lusty blows before being dismissed by Mohammad Asif in the third over of the innings with 25 runs on the board. Robin Uthappa, who came in at the fall of Yusuf's wicket, could not get going and was dismissed by Sohail Tanvir in the last over of the power play after contributing just 8 runs.
Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh strung together a 63 run partnership for the third wicket to steady the innings. The gritty opening batsman was the dominant partner with Yuvraj, the star of the tournament till then, being kept under the cosh by the Pakistani spin bowlers. The increasing pressure got the better of Yuvraj as he top-edged a pull shot of Umar Gul while trying to break the shackles.
This brought Dhoni to the crease but he too joined Yuvraj in the pavilion after being castled by Gul. With the Indian score reading 111 for 4 after 15.2 overs, it was down to Gambhir and the young but equally talented Rohit Sharma to take India to a fighting score. The duo took the score to 130 when Gambhir eventually fell caught at short fine-leg while trying to play a cheeky paddle sweep. But by that time, the dogged southpaw had accumulated 75 runs in just 54 deliveries in a knock studded with 8 fours and 2 sixes to lend respectability to the Indian total.
Rohit carried on the good work and slammed a quick-fire 30 of just 16 deliveries to help India reach a defendable total of 157 for the loss of 5 wickets in their allotted 20 overs, with a handy 27 runs coming off the last 2 overs.
It was now the turn of the Indian bowlers to deliver the goods and they did not let the team down. Although Imran Nazir gave a flying start to the Pakistan innings, the Indian bowlers pulled things back in the middle overs by stifling the run rate and picking crucial wickets.
Just when it seemed that India would run away with the match, Misbah-ul-Haq launched a stunning attack on Harbhajan Singh by hitting him for 3 sixes in one over. The equation boiled down to 13 runs being required off the final over with one wicket remaining. Joginder Sharma, entrusted to bowl the final over, held his nerve to dismiss Misbah of the third delivery after the previous ball had been hit for a six.
This sealed a nail-biting 5-run victory for India and they were crowned the inaugural World T20 Champions. Irfan Pathan was awarded the Man of the Match for his excellent 4 over spell where he picked up 3 crucial wickets conceding just 16 runs, but Gambhir deserved an equal amount of credit for holding the innings together with wickets falling at the other end and carrying the team to a fighting score.
97 vs Sri Lanka in the ODI World Cup Final 2011
India faced Sri Lanka in the final of the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup at Mumbai on 2nd April 2011. The Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara won the toss and elected to bat first.
Sri Lanka was off to a slow start aggregating just 31 runs for the loss of one wicket at the end of the first 10 overs with Zaheer Khan conceding a meager 6 runs in his first 5-over spell. But the Lankans recovered with the help of a sublime inning of 103* from Mahela Jayawardene and some lusty hitting from Thisara Perera to post a more than competitive total of 274 for 6 in their allotted 50 overs.
Chasing 275 for victory coupled with the added pressure of a final, was never going to be an easy task and it was made even more difficult with India losing both Sehwag and Tendulkar to a fired-up Lasith Malinga with just 31 runs on the board. Gambhir and the young Virat Kohli steadied the ship by stringing together a partnership of 83 runs when Kohli was caught and bowled by Tillakaratne Dilshan with the score reading 114 for 3 in 21.4 overs.
With another 161 runs required for victory, Dhoni played a masterstroke by promoting himself up the order ahead of the in-form Yuvraj. The Gambhir-Dhoni duo went about repairing the innings through singles and doubles with an odd boundary in between. They ensured that the required run-rate never went out of reach in their partnership of 109 runs in less than 20 overs.
With another 52 runs required for victory with 53 balls remaining, Gambhir danced down the track in the look-out of a boundary to reach his century. But he missed the ball completely to be bowled by Perera for a well-compiled knock of 97 runs, studded with 9 hits to the fence.
With the job almost done, Dhoni and Yuvraj applied the finishing touches and took India to their 2nd ODI World Cup triumph. The Indian captain finished things off in style with a majestic six over long-on as India won by 6 wickets with 10 balls to spare.
Dhoni deservingly won the Man of the Match award for taking India to victory with his unbeaten knock of 91 runs, but Gambhir's knock was no less important having taken India from a precarious position after the loss of the two early wickets to almost on the verge of victory.
137 vs New Zealand in the 2nd Test of India's tour to New Zeland in 2009
India faced the Kiwis in the 2nd test of their away tour to New Zealand at Napier from 26th to 30th March 2009. Having won the first test emphatically by 10 wickets, India went into the test match high on confidence. The Kiwi skipper Daniel Vettori won the toss and elected to bat.
The Indian pacers started brightly claiming the first 3 New Zealand wickets for just 23 runs. But the 4th wicket partnership of Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor sent the Indian fielders on a leather hunt as they forged a partnership of 271 runs with Ryder going on to score a double century (201) and Taylor scoring 151 runs. The Indian bowlers' misery was compounded by a 115 run knock by Brendon McCullum as the Kiwis went on to post a mammoth score of 619 for 9 declared.
The Indian batting succumbed under the pressure of the enormous score posted by the Kiwis and could only manage 305 runs in their first innings. Dravid and Laxman were the main contributors for the Indians in the first innings managing to score 83 and 76 runs, respectively. Gambhir, who had come into the test after a good performance in the first test, failed to deliver in the first innings and was dismissed for 16 runs.
Vettori enforced the follow-on with the Kiwis, enjoying a lead of 314 runs in the first innings and more than 2 days remaining in the test match. India's chances of saving the test match became even more difficult with Sehwag being dismissed in the final session of Day 3.
Gambhir and Dravid denied the Kiwi bowlers in the remaining overs of the third day and carried on the fight on the 4th day morning. While Dravid was rock-solid as usual, Gambhir also gave up his typical attacking game for a defensive approach. The duo played out 63 overs while stitching together a partnership of 133 runs before Dravid eventually fell for an individual score of 62 just before the tea break on the 4th day.
Tendulkar joined Gambhir in the middle, and the pair took India to stumps on the 4th day without being separated with Gambhir having reached his century (102) and Tendulkar his fifty (58) at the end of the day's play. But with India still trailing by 62 runs, they were still not out of troubled waters and required another grinding effort on the 5th and final day.
India lost Tendulkar early on the 5th morning, and it was now down to Gambhir and Laxman to take India to safety. The duo continued the fight and went to lunch unseparated with the Indian score reading 306 for 3, still trailing by 8 runs. Gambhir and Laxman did not let off post-lunch and stitched together a valuable 96 run partnership before Gambhir eventually fell with the Indian score reading 356 for 4, a lead of 42 runs. By the time Gambhir was dismissed, he had withstood the Kiwi attack for 643 minutes, facing 436 deliveries and accumulating 137 runs in the bargain.
With the match almost saved, the pressure was released, and the Laxman-Yuvraj pair batted out the rest of the day for India to eventually finish the final day at 476 for the loss of 4 wickets. It was a great rescue act from the Indian batting line up with Gambhir leading the way. Although Ryder was named the Man of the Match, Gambhir was undoubtedly the hero of the match from the Indian perspective.
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Gambhir was the outstanding performer in the final test of the series as well, with a more attacking 167 runs in the 2nd innings. Although the Kiwis just managed to save the test match with rain coming to their rescue, India achieved a well deserved away test series victory.