It was a decision which was left to Gautam Gambhir. When and how to bow out of cricket? He chose to leave on his terms, just as he played the game, making his decisions, good or bad. The Delhi-Andhra Ranji Trophy match will mark the conclusion of a glorious chapter in Indian cricket when the dashing opener plays his final first-class innings.

“The most difficult decisions are often taken with the heaviest of hearts. And with one heavy heart, I’ve decided to make an announcement that I’ve dreaded all my life,” Gambhir said of his retirement from all forms of the game.

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At 37, Gambhir was obviously left with little motivation to carry on. He had lost his place in the Indian team, having last played a Test in 2016, and ODI in 2013, but he had plenty to contribute to his state, particularly after Delhi had lost the services of Virender Sehwag and Ashish Nehra.

Gambhir was one of his kind. He did not mind a confrontation in the middle. In fact he loved it. Some of his spats with the opponents may not have gone down well in cricket circles but his mates knew he essentially did it to charge himself up for the sake of the team. He used the anger to deliver.

As an opener, he brought aggression to the crease, playing his strokes from the first ball, unflinching when the opposition targeted him, not making any compromise with his game. He inspired confidence in his partner at the other end by taking on the best bowler of the day. This was Gambhir’s speciality. He did not believe in leaving the job to someone else. He did not shirk from the responsibility at any stage of the contest.

The left-hander played two huge knocks – in the 2007 T20 World Cup final and the 2011 World Cup. He may not have won the `Man of the match’ honours on both the occasions but the team knew and respected his efforts which swung the game India’s way. What mattered was India won and Gambhir was at his best when it counted the most.

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Some of us got a glimpse of Gambhir when he was 13 in a match he played against the Delhi sports scribes. He hit a quickfire century and we knew he was different. His coach, Uday Gupte, was spot on when he remarked, “He will play some outstanding cricket for India.”

It is ironic that Gambhir moves away from the game when Delhi cricket needs him badly. The young team is bound to miss his experience in the dressing room. A glorious chapter in Indian cricket will conclude in a week from now.

Gambhir deserves a standing ovation at the ground where he evolved as a cricketer, serving the game with distinction.