Around this time a year ago, Gautam Gambhir was sitting high on a giant wheel of success. He had led KKR to a much-awaited victory in the Indian Premier League.
Just before that, he had ended a drought in ODIs with a century in the Asia Cup and with the sliding fortunes of India under Mahendra Singh Dhoni, his name was doing the rounds as the Captain Cool’s successor in Tests.
But on one of this summer’s hottest days, while Dhoni-led India were preparing in Cardiff for the Champions Trophy, Gambhir sat along the boundary ropes at the St Stephens’ College ground in New Delhi, face flushed in heat and perspiration.
This is where it had all begun. GG Dutt Hot Weather cricket and the DDCA league now stare at him like a mirror, asking him to once again prove to the world that all is not lost.
The giant wheel has turned and the 31-year-old now awaits his next chance to climb back to the top. Along with him is Virender Sehwag — together they had been one of India’s most successful opening pairs for years.
Stalwarts Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan are also waiting in the queue, their seats taken up by new faces.
And with every Indian victory, the core of India’s World Cup winning team is seemingly drifting into the background of the sub-conscious. As former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi puts it, “Are we missing them now?”
Jamadoba is a small suburb in Dhanbad, Jharkhand. In February 2006, the Tata Digwadi Stadium there suddenly rediscovered itself on India’s cricket map.
The India team was away playing one-dayers in Pakistan under Rahul Dravid, but this dusty mining area was abuzz with the presence of one man --- Sourav Ganguly who opted to represent Bengal in the East-Zone one-dayers.
The former India skipper was on a mission to prove to the nation and even more to himself that he was not finished yet.
The quest culminated in December that year when Ganguly was back on a flight to South Africa. Man-of-the-Match in the semi-final and final of India’s first World Cup win in 1983 Mohinder Amarnath, had earned the title of ‘comeback man’ in his 20-year career. And stories like these abound in sport.
Thankfully for Gambhir, unlike others waiting in the queue like him, he is still in the selectors’ radar. He was among the standbys for Champions Trophy and is taking his comeback seriously.
He has sought the services of former India opener and Bengal coach WV Raman, the man who was instrumental in infusing fresh life into the careers of the likes of Murali Vijay and Dinesh Karthik.
“There is a phase where the mind gets a bit too active and flaws start creeping in. The mind starts to think of a lot many things than is needed,” says Raman, who thinks Gambhir could be passing through a similar phase, after a six-day stint with the left-hander. “The important thing is to get his mind back in shape,” he says.
Dada could not have agreed more. “Even after you perform at your best, there has to be a slot in the team and so you need a corresponding failure. A bit of luck is involved. But the best you can do is keep yourself ready so that when the door opens, you are the first one waiting outside,” Ganguly had said years back talking to the media before flying off to join the team in South Africa.
However, others, like Sehwag and Harbhajan, who might really struggle to get back to reckoning, are waiting to get started.
Last month, when Madras Cricket Club secretary Ajit Chaudhary called Sehwag for a couple of matches for two Hot Weather tournaments, Sehwag didn’t turn up as he was under the weather.
He is setting up an academy with former India player and Delhi teammate Amit Bhandari in South Delhi’s Jasola and also revamping Bhandari’s academy at Khalsa School in Lajpat Nagar.
In fact, at the camp at the National Cricket Academy ahead of the Australia Test series, Sehwag was keenly enquiring about various facilities at the nets.
Business aside, he recently shifted to his new home in Chhattarpur and now Sehwag is in the US holidaying with his family.
“He feels this Ranji Trophy will be very important. He will begin training after he comes back from the US,” says Chaudhary. Last year too, it was his hundred in the season opener against Uttar Pradesh that brought him back.
Like Sehwag, Harbhajan too is involved with his business ventures at the moment — setting up his production house in Mumbai which is awaiting launch anytime soon. He is also introducing his brand of willows: ‘Bhajji Bats’.
Harbhajan, part of the title-winning Mumbai Indians, had a decent outing in the T20 league. He too has had a break and is back after being forced to take shelter at the Indo-Tibetan Border Police camp following floods in Uttarakhand.
Next week, the Punjab Ranji preliminary training camp begins at Mohali. Bhajji may give it a miss, but Yuvraj could drop in.
Yuvi was at the NCA recently, seeking advice from physiotherapists and then, a couple of days back, was seen at the Sector-16 stadium doing stretching exercises.
It has been learnt that he will continue training in England ahead of the Ranji Trophy. “He is at a different level and his fitness demands are different too,” says a Punjab player.
Zaheer had missed most of the IPL through injury inaugurated an outlet of his chain of restaurants in Pune called Toss. He has surfaced at different events in Mumbai but has been tight-lipped about his training plans.
He might go to England for a stint in the County Championships. “Zaheer has to work on fitness. The day he’s 100% fit, he has it in him to make it back,” feels Sudhir Naik, the Mumbai chairman of selectors.
“Physios of the India team hand out a fitness programmes to every player. Zaheer needs to follow it and play matches.”
All of them were mentored by Ganguly and so they do not need to look far for inspiration. Hunger and resilience will be put to test and age is catching up. But then again their mentor never believed age should be a criterion for selection, form was everything.
Inputs from Kushal Phatarpekar in Mumbai.