It was the 3rd day of the 5th test between India and England at the Oval, and the last day of the Test Match series. India, trailing behind England by 338 runs after the 1st innings, and tailing by 1-2 in the series, had their backs to the wall. Gautam Gambhir and Murali Vijay were opening the innings for India and a lot relied on their shoulders if India was to fight hard and salvage a draw. Gambhir, having replaced Shikhar Dhawan after the 3rd test, looked completely out of sorts after the 3 innings he had batted in. This was perhaps his last chance to prove that he could still open well enough for India.
After 18 balls of torturous struggling, fighting the inner demons of not playing outside the off stump, and not playing his favourite, loved dab through the third man, Gambhir was out on the 19th ball in a fashion which was least expected, that is, a run out.
India not only failed to put a fight, but folded the knees in front of England as they were dismissed for 94 runs and in under 30. It was quite an uncharacteristic performance from India, because India started the series well but went downhill, while on most foreign tours, the story is exactly the opposite.
Questions were being asked if this would be Gambhir’s last test match in India. The opener who held the record for 5 centuries in 5 test matches, was even worse than a shadow himself. The feet didn’t move, shots were being played away from the body, and the man himself appeared lost.
Gambhir is still out of the team, but as an Indian cricket fan who has seen his performances in the IPL, one wonders if he is the best captain India may never have.
Gambhir is an aggressive captain and like most Delhi guys, wears his heart on his sleeve. In a format which is to be dominated by the batsmen, Gambhir was the first among the IPL captains who believed that’s it’s the bowlers who’ll win you the matches, and made some changes in the team accordingly.
Wasim Akram has often hailed him as the best captain in IPL since Gambhir took command of the Kolkata Knight Riders. In the 74 matches that Gambhir has captained in IPL, he has won 41 out of those with a percentage of 56%.
Gambhir often said that he chooses 5 bowlers first who’ll play in the team and then choose the other players. He, being the one who walks the talk, plans to attacks the batsmen first with pace and bounce of Morkel and Umesh, and then uses Sunil Narine, Piyush Chawla and Kuldeep Yadav to stifle the opposition by encouraging them to take wickets at all times.
Despite being the captain of the Kolkata Knight Riders, Gambhir at no point takes his place for granted and by his own admission has said that he’s severe on the batsman in him.
“Gautam the leader is very harsh on Gautam the batsman. In fact there were occasions in this year’s IPL when Gautam the captain was about to drop Gautam the batsman. The way I see it is that like rest of the 10 players I should also be in the team on merit and definitely not because I am the captain,” he had said.
A good captain should always encourage the young talent in the team and back it, and Gambhir definitely possesses this quality. Indian fans remember a lot about the fight between Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir on the field, but hardly anyone remembers that when Kohli scored his first hundred against Sri Lanka in Eden Gardens, Kolkata, Gambhir gave his man of the match to Kohli. He did the same in the IPL when he gave away his Man of the match to Suryakumar Yadav.
The southpaw from Delhi, is not only an aggressive player by nature, but is one of the most stubborn fighters and a great team player. His knock on the night of the 2011 World Cup Final is a testimony to this. If one mistakes it as a fluke, then the knocks in the World T20 Final and the marathon knock in Napier against NZ in 2009 further adds to his case. Mind you, he was dropped from the squad of the 2007 World Cup but then returned as India’s highest scorer in the World T20 later that very year.
From being once labelled as India’s ‘next best opener’ and ‘the next wall’, Gautam Gambhir now finds himself in a maze from where breaking into the Indian team as a player seems impossible, forget about becoming an India captain.
Clichéd it may seem, but when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. And of all people, Gautam Gambhir certainly knows how to get going.