Meet the real Gautam Gambhir

Gautam Gambhir holds the International Cricket Council Test Player of The Year Award at The ICC Awards 2009 in Johannesburg, South Africa, on October 1, 2009.-AP

Pressure, criticism, healthy rivalry, difficult but attainable goals have all been part of Gautam Gambhir’s learning process. VIJAY LOKAPALLY caught up with the prolific opener in Delhi.

The imperious streak that he has brought to his batting is actually a façade. The real Gautam Gambhir loves to grind. He loves to grind the bowlers, embarrass his critics, and take his game to the next level. To do that, he fires himself up by setting goals that can be most intimidating. But then he likes it that way.

When you tell him that he has graduated to the stage which belongs to quality batsmen, he actually blushes. “It’s a great compliment. I know I can excel in any situation, on any surface. To tell you the truth, I love to take up responsibility. As a team, we play to win, and if I can contribute, it brings joy personally. Experience has taught me a few things and I feel it’s a great honour to be ranked among the best.”

The rankings, however, do not appeal to him. “I don’t play to be ranked,” he says. But it was different a few years ago when critics did not consider him worthy of wearing the India cap. “It hurt when they said I didn’t have the technique.” But he was always sure of what he was capable of. He belonged to the highest class and he worked for his place under the sun.

“I knew I had the technique. I never doubted my temperament either. I was always aware of the difference between domestic cricket and international cricket. The intensity of the pressure was different. But I liked this pressure.” As a young man, batting in front of the mirror, honing his backlift, he would set himself a tough target for the next day. “I really liked it when it was tough.”

So, pressure, criticism, healthy rivalry, difficult but attainable goals have all been part of his learning process. “You are a champion,” the mirror would reflect. And Gambhir believed the mirror. “I knew I was a champion.” Once his target had been identified, he started his march to that destination with resolve, discipline and devotion.

There were spells of indecisiveness, but Gambhir hung in. “Initially the gap between domestic and international cricket looked very, very big. Sometimes I still get nervous. But once I am out there I shut the world out. It is all mental. I keep telling myself that I have to be one step ahead. I think I have mostly managed that.”

“I don’t know what I would have done had I not played cricket.” Gambhir played cricket and played it well. If there were any misgivings, the clouds of uncertainty were blown away during the series against Sri Lanka in 2008.

“That series established me,” he says as a matter of fact. There was a lot of talk as to how Gambhir would face the wily Ajantha Mendis. Gambhir did not make a hundred, but he made runs with confidence and in style. And then the home series against Australia saw him grow in stature. Scores of 67 and 104 at Mohali were followed by 206 and 36 in the next Test in Delhi. “I now believed that I belonged to this level. I was nervous initially but that was the turning point; the series in Sri Lanka and the knocks against Australia. They meant a lot to me and my confidence.”

The tour to New Zealand was the crowning glory for this dashing opener. An aggregate of 445 runs confirmed him as one of the premier batsmen of world cricket. This ability to back himself has come from the hard grind in Delhi cricket. Those hot weather tournaments, on square turners, fighting for a place, trying to win matches…it all helped him improve as a batsman.

Where does Virender Sehwag figure in Gambhir’s success? “He is the principal actor. Sehwag has been the motivator, the guide, the guru… everything actually,” says Gambhir.-K.R. DEEPAK

He vividly remembers how playing on bad pitches and against difficult bowlers, came in handy during his rise. “The cricket was highly competitive because the pitches were dicey and the bowlers didn’t have clean actions. That added to the challenge and the thrill of making runs. There was so much of cricket to play. At times three matches in a day. It was great fun.”

Where does Virender Sehwag figure in his success? “He is the principal actor. He has been the motivator, the guide, the guru…everything actually. His mental toughness made me wonder how a batsman could be so sure of himself. His grit and determination were enviable. He made batting look ridiculously easy. What an amazing philosophy he follows. Just stand there and smash the ball. I tell others don’t try it please, only Viru can do that! I play those shots in my dreams a lot. And play them very well.”

These days Gambhir also plays those shots on the field. Not with the same authority as Sehwag. But often he leaves Sehwag admiring too.

Gambhir’s aggression is his way of making a strong statement. He will not tolerate loose talk; would never rubbish his seniors. He was the main force behind Sehwag taking on some corrupt and self-promoting cricket officials in Delhi. No one dare take Gambhir lightly.

The aggression also stems from Gambhir’s insecurity. Would you believe he can feel insecure? “Yes, I do feel insecure. I still have the fear of being dropped. To avoid that, I bat with aggression and keep looking to play special innings time and again. My failure forces me to get angry but I am angry at myself.”

How would he describe himself? “I am a private person. My passion is my mental toughness to play good cricket. I know thousands have tried to earn the India cap and failed. I value my cap. It is priceless. It teaches me not to take things easy. It reminds me of the hard work that I have put in.”

To conclude, a word about his tantrums, often captured on camera, giving a wrong impression of his character. He gets angry but often at himself. It would be wrong to assume that he is an angry young man. He is an introvert, but is a ‘terror’ when in the company of his close friends. He is also a terror if you happen to be a bowler. But essentially, he is a batsman who brings joy to the audience in his inimitable style.