Throwback Thursday: With the Cricket World Cup just around the corner, we have rifled through our archives and found this little belter from our May 2013 edition.
Roger Federer is called Roger Federer, not Roger Genius, and therefore does not have to live up to his name every time he lifts a racket. (That he lives up to the name Roger Genius almost every time he’s picked up a racket is because he is a genius, not a Genius.) Conversely, with a surname that suggests ‘flash of lightning’, and an ego that burns equally bright, Usain Bolt was born to be the fastest man alive. So pity poor Gautam Gambhir.
The Indian batsman’s surname means ‘intense’ or ‘deep’ in Hindi. That sums up his approach to cricket, for better and for worse. He is a thinker, in a game that gives pause for thought, and won’t be the last cricketer to have to brace himself under the weight of his mind’s work. Yet steely focus has made him a fearsome player, opening the batting for clubs and country, and a respected leader.
He is the captain of Kolkata Knight Riders, reigning champions of the Indian Premier League, world cricket’s most scrutinised competition, and he has been vice-captain and stand-in captain of the India national team. Only seven players have scored more than his 20 hundreds for India. Despite being dropped from the national side earlier this year, he is still spoken of as a potential future India captain. On the day his demotion was announced, he immediately took to Twitter to congratulate the players who took his place in the squad.
Equally rare is the sportsman, like Gambhir, who uses social media to announce the books he’s choosing from to fill the rest of a day after practice: biographies of Hitler and Australia batsman Justin Langer, Malcolm Gladwell’s instinct book Blink, something by Hindustani literature great Premchand. Gambhir also likes to put in extra training sessions on top of his teams’ compulsory work-outs. “Practising on my own is a personal decision.” says Gambhir. “Everyone thinks about their game in their own way, and you have to do what you feel is best for you.”
In 2007, when he was dropped for the World Cup, what he felt was best for him was to give up cricket entirely. “Ask any sportsman, and he’ll tell you he wants to play in the biggest events. Missing the World Cup, I feel even now that I should have been in that side, and for a time then, I thought, ‘I don’t want to play cricket, I want to do something else.’ I think it was a blessing in disguise that I didn’t have any other options, so I turnedaround and said to myself, ‘Forget about worrying if you play for India or not. For now it’s about scoring runs, for my club, my state or India, and going back home happy. That will give you maximum happiness.’ When I started doing that, everything fell into place.”
Six months after that low point, Gambhir was back playing for India, top-scoring for them as they won the 2007 World Twenty20 tournament, including 75 off 54 balls in the final victory over Pakistan. In 2009, he was briefly the number one ranked Test batsman in the world. In the 2011 World Cup final, he anchored India’s home-soil win over Sri Lanka with 97, again top-scoring in the biggest game.
“It’s not about what I have achieved,” says Gambhir, and when he talks, he looks you straight in the eye. “It’s what the team does. I’ve always thought about the team first. We want to see India get back to the number one world Test ranking. In 2011, we were number one and it was a great feeling. When you are part of the team that slips down to number three or number four, it hurts you big time, and the way we performed overseas was humiliating. My goal is to get India back to number one.”
In the meantime, there’s the notinconsequential task of defending the Indian Premier League title. Despite suffering from jaundice at the start of the competition, Gambhir was in fine run-scoring form in the early matches. “I think being captain helps to get the best out of me when I’m playing. I want to make players feel important, because it’s not a successful captain that makes a successful team, it’s the other way around.” Leading from the front, Gambhir is gambhir and all the better for it.