Gautam Gambhir’s combative approach has often caught rivals by surprise. The diminutive player has added steel to the Indian batting lineup with his intense approach. On Saturday, the left-hander found a special place in the hearts of more than a billion fans after playing the innings of his life in the World Cup final. In this interview, the top-scorer against Sri Lanka provides his perspective of the victory that ended a 28-year wait.
You said beforehand that you'd score big in the finals.
I had the hunch I’d do well. Coming into the final, I did well against England, South Africa and Australia scoring half centuries. I wanted to go big against strong oppositions, and something told me I will turn it on in the final as well. There is no Paul the Octopus in my life (laughs).
You guys are the world champions, can you explain that high?
I will share an incident to explain that. After winning the final, on the way to our hotel, I saw a destitute family sleeping on the pavement. There was a couple with its three young children. I doubt if they had proper meals but they slept like a log, wearing an India shirt. I suspect they too would have celebrated with others on the streets. That to me is the high. The way cricket, and more importantly the success of the Indian team, binds the nation and helps people forget their challenges is the real kick. We are lucky we can do that.
Any big success also helps erase some bitter memories. Did this do that for you?
Yes. Perhaps this win will ensure I don't revisit the lows of not making the team for the 2007 World Cup. From a broader perspective, it was heartening to see a teeming lobby of the Taj, with so many fans cheering for Team India. Who'd have thought when 26/11 happened that three years down the road this lobby would witness historic scenes one day.
What were you thinking when you went to bat at 0 for 1?
From the outside it may seem I was under pressure, but believe me I was absolutely fine. I just told myself I had performed in even bigger pressure situations and should be able to handle this. I remember in 2007, during our tour to England, we were supposed to play a one-day game in Trent Bridge. A member of the team management came and said, ‘if you fail tomorrow, I’m sorry but you will be out’. That is a lot more pressure compared to walking out to the middle at 0/1 in a World Cup final.
Run-scoring seemed a lot easier than one expected. You agree?
I think so. Generally Sri Lanka are a very good bowling side but they looked a little pale. I think it is to do with Muralitharan not firing. He looked off-colour, maybe because of injury or he was not getting the zip or bite off the wicket.
You batted well too…
Yeah. Virat, MS, Yuvi and I all batted well. The calm with which this team approaches challenges is the key to success. You’d never feel we are flustered or rushed. This self-belief has developed over the years after being through the lows a number of times.
What is the best compliment you have got so far?
My inbox had 676 messages and about 192 missed calls when I switched on my phone after the game. I haven’t read them, but I'm sure I can't get a better message than what Gary told me. He said, ‘if ever I need anyone to save my life, it will be you’. That to me sums up Gary Kirsten. He gives you so much confidence you feel like Superman. I feel I can smash the wall with my head.
It must be a special feeling to put a classy ton by Jayawardene in the shade.
It was satisfying to hear good words from Sangakkara after the game. But the fact that I could negate a brilliant hundred by Mahela was extremely satisfying. He is a class player, especially against spin. When he was batting I was telling myself I have to better or match him, stroke for stroke. It's an ego thing. A feeling to go one better than your rival.
You must be heart-broken not to get a hundred?
Not at all. I thought about it for a moment but after a while I was fine. India has won the World Cup. What can be bigger than that?
Did the anxiety of getting a World Cup final hundred get the better of you?
Yes, it did happen. At times when you are close to the pinnacle, subconsciously you reach there even before you are actually there. The same happened to me. I reached the hundred before I got there, was imagining myself raising the bat and lost focus. But now who cares? We are the world champions.
Waiting for 2007 T20 World Cup like reception?
Whatever the celebrations, it doesn't really matter. No one should be inconvenienced by it. I'd urge yes, it is a World Cup win, but people should not lose perspective. We've reached the top in both ODIs and Tests. But now the challenge will be to stay there as the world wants us to fall. We have to guard against that.
(DINESH CHOPRA WORKS FOR ESPN's SPORTSCENTER)