4th December 2018 marks the day when one of India’s modern day champions bid adieu to the game. While Gambhir may not have the number of hundreds the likes of Kohli and Sachin have conjured, he still was one of India’s most vital components in its most recent golden period.
When Gambhir first burst onto the scene as a young, vibrant batsman, there were many apparent weaknesses to his game. Yet, the lad from Delhi squeezed out as much as he could from the back-foot nudges, the uppish slash over the off-side and the powerful flicks.
When he looks back at his career, he can proudly look at an average of over 40 in Test matches and an average hovering around the same mark in ODIs. While the sheer numbers might not place him among the pantheon of greats Indian cricket has seen, the timing of his displays would surely do.
Initially, his batting technique had come under the scanner. Gambhir’s main weaknesses were his tendency to hang his bat outside the off stump and falling over too often while attempting to play on the leg side. Both weaknesses were cardinal sins when one looks at the text-book art of Test match batting. However, Gambhir overcame those through sheer will power and determination.
After all, humans are prone to mistakes and Gambhir made his fair share while batting too. Yet, his ability to completely shut out his previous mistake and bide his time in battle led him to conquer most of his demons.
For all of Gambhir’s limited-overs exploits, probably his best international innings came in the format where many felt he was destined to fail: a 632-minute marathon to save a Test at Napier. Staring at an innings defeat that would have undone the good work of the first Test, Gambhir set out his stall and stood heroically between New Zealand and victory.
In the final Test of the same series, Gambhir scored heavily again. His 167 in the second innings ensured that India finally ended up on the winning side in a Test series in New Zealand.
In the formats where he was perceived to be better, he helped India to two world titles, with the first being the ICC World T20, where he masterminded a victory with a fine 75 in the final.
However, just as it always was with Gambhir, his most important innings didn’t receive the recognition it deserved. The 2011 World Cup final is remembered as ‘Dhoni’s final’. Yet, it should’ve been ‘Gambhir and Dhoni’s final’. The duo came up with sumptuous displays of grit and temperament but somehow the former’s innings slipped quicker into the wilderness.
Moreover, the southpaw was never shy of scrutiny. Whether that was due to his workman-like style or his ‘un-flamboyant’ approach, we will never know. However, Gambhir being Gambhir, did what he was asked to do: serve his country with passion.
Since 2011-12, India has looked vulnerable overseas. Incidentally, that slump in form has also coincided with Gambhir’s struggles in international cricket. While our biggest worry was always replacing Sehwag, Sachin and Dravid, the lack of a Gambhir-like player at the top could yet be the root of our current problems. He was a player who wasn’t willing to give the opposition an inch. He was someone who stood in the face of adversity and overcame the competition with sheer will.
Gambhir was cut out from a unique cloth of cricketers. He fell into the bracket of cricketers who sacrificed their own interests for the betterment of the team. Maybe that was one of the reasons he couldn’t play for a longer time for India. However, at a juncture when one of India’s finest has bid goodbye, we should rather not involve ourselves with conspiracy theories.
Gambhir may still not be the batsman that gives us goosebumps going into the stadium. However, what we will miss is his striding out to the middle, with a poker face, not giving his opponents a moment’s peace and plotting a victory for his team.
Players like Gambhir don’t come around too often. Hence, a career like his should be celebrated with immense gusto.
But one thing is for sure: even if he isn’t as celebrated as he should be, Gambhir being Gambhir, wouldn’t mind for he knows that has served his country to the best of his abilities and with utmost passion.
Kudos on a wonderful career, Gautam Gambhir!