SK Elite: Gautam Gambhir’s 97 life-defining runs against Sri Lanka
Those hidden minute petals enveloped by the mammoth trees, those smoky stars blown away by the bright sun, those strewn brown leaves which remind us about the storm; well these entities are not the hero, they are very much part of the shadow, but with every dawn, their importance clings on!
For when Gautam Gambhir walked in after Virender Sehwag was dismissed, when Gambhir held his fort after Sachin Tendulkar was plucked out, when Gambhir ran, dived, fell, stumbled, and peeled off 97, he was more like those smoky stars, very much occupying the skies, very much blown away by the blinding sun of Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Perhaps, the 97 runs scored typified Gautam Gambhir, the person and the cricketer; holding the fort when the sand seemed to slip away and then slipping away himself when the fort was there to be conquered.
Indian cricket came together at the Wankhede Stadium on April 2 when Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led a group of 11 inspired men to the World Cup triumph, all at home, all before adoring fans, all before anyone else had done it.
However, things were not quite hunky-dory at the break when Sri Lanka was guided by their own master in Mahela Jayawardene as they set a stiff target of 275 runs, not necessarily daunting, but when viewed through the prism of the moment and when measured against the occasion, it was daunting, it needed something special, it needed a performance befitting the world champions tag.
And then India lost Virender Sehwag in the very first over and Sachin Tendulkar when the score read 34. The cauldron was more like a barren desert, an eerie silence echoed all around the park when Gambhir was joined in the centre by Virat Kohli.
No risks were taken and yet runs were scored, no flashy drives played, yet the scoreboard kept moving, the desert received priceless drops, Wankhede started getting back into the groove.
Kohli blinked and spooned a return catch to Tillekratne Dilshan and all of a sudden brakes were applied. 114 for three wickets, India on thin ice, the match on a knife-edge, Gambhir was at the other end nervously prodding the pitch, MS Dhoni sauntered in, the duo exchanged few instructions and then India saw something very unique; it was riveting, it was enthralling, it was poetic, it was world cup winning performance!
While Dhoni took his time to get going, Gambhir manoeuvred the field with dexterity, he chipped down to find gaps against the quick bowlers, rocked back against the spinners to bisect square fielders, ran like a man possessed and threw himself all over the place.
Perhaps, the most iconic moment of his innings came when he was on 47, he rocked back against Muttiah Muralitharan, cut it between point and third man and ran. As he turned around, he knew he was gasping for breath and was about to complete a tight run, the throw came in, right above the stumps, Gambhir launched himself, dragged his body inside the crease and made his ground. A muddy shirt was a result of all this effort, however, this epitomized the man, his zeal to succeed, his willingness to not look away from adversity.
Dhoni was now in his stride and the big shots surfaced, Gambhir now was cruising, the partnership was galvanizing Mumbai, it was galvanizing India, it was knocking out Sri Lanka!
Gambhir’s mastery over the spinners stood out, as he was keen not only to rock back against the off-spinners in Suraj Randiv and Muralitharan but also was quite adept in bending down low and sweeping the ball to vacant areas.
Yes, Wankhede was buzzing again, Dhoni looked calm, Gambhir looked to be in his bubble, and India were on course.
As has been said before, the situation was immense, the setting was overwhelming, and the weather was taxing. Gambhir worked hard, and now he was taxed, back pain and isolated cramps started impeding him.
He entered his 90s in the 38th over, but he stalled considerably and when his score read 97 it was over number 42.
Seven runs scored in around five overs, and the southpaw clearly had enough. If his career is closely tracked, one would notice a trend; he likes scooting through the 40s and 90s by playing one or two big strokes.
Thisara Perera trundled in, bowled a length ball, Gambhir charged down, looked to go inside out over covers, missed the ball and lost his stumps.
He looked back, and then towards Dhoni, hung his head, and trudged back. There was a pain, there was silence, there was no century, but yes, there were the critical few steps towards getting that World Cup.
Dhoni won the man of the match, people spoke about his panache, but there was Gambhir smiling in a corner with the World Cup tucked in.
This world believes in illusions, it tends to forget solidity, it believes in façade, it tends to forget the virtues, Dhoni is no illusion or façade, but the solidity of virtues of Gambhir has not resonated enough!