In 2007, Gautam Gambhir missed World Cup selection and watched India make an agonising first round exit on TV. However, he played a major role in the World Twenty20 triumph later that year and has since emerged as a vital cog in all formats of the game, contributing as an aggressive player and an emerging leader. As India again prepare to chase glory at home, Gambhir gives his perspective on the big Cup and much more:
What comes to your mind when you hear the words World Cup?
Win it! Simple as that.
You won the T20 World Cup in 2007. How did that feel?
World Cup wins are about renaissance. We all know what happened when India won in 1983. I'm a cricketer today because of the wave post that victory. I'm sure many of my teammates share the same thoughts. In 2007, the same happened. I remember India won the T20 Cup in September and six months later, IPL happened. Today, there are so many cricketers who have made it to the team or are on the fringes because of a good show in the IPL.
This is the first 50-over World Cup since IPL was launched...
India gave the world IPL and at that time there was a lot of criticism abroad about the tournament. India were accused of arm-twisting the world riding on commercial clout and IPL was seen as an ill. Majority of the criticism about the team faded when we became No. 1 in Tests, and if we win this one the rest will disappear as well.
What are the changes you foresee if India win the World Cup?
I believe the citizens of our country are left with very few things to have faith in. The past year has been one of scams and we are now reeling under double-digit inflation. Getting a child admitted to school is like climbing a mountain; Delhi is called the rape Capital. Religion is still being used to push political agendas and then we have our quota of natural mishaps. Amidst all this if cricket can provide some respite, we'd have done our job.
You seem to have given up on the system?
No, that is not the case, I have faith in it but frankly it is easier for me because I'm an India cricketer. For a common man it is a battle for survival. The other day I was watching highlights of our recent win over the Kiwis and I was telling myself that I took over as captain for that series on 26/11, two days before the first game in Guwahati. Now, 26/11 means so many different things to different people. I just hope our 5-0 win in that series could play a part in soothing some of the pain of 26/11 victims.
Would you have liked to play Pakistan in the group stage?
Maybe (smiles), it may have fired us up a lot more but you can't help it. Maybe we run into them in the next stage.
Why do we struggle in multi-nation events?
Multi-nation tournaments have that surprise element. These events require different planning for different teams. Generally, we don't start well but this is not an excuse. Maybe, in 2007 we paid the price for that loss to Bangladesh. But I don't think it is pressure. These days cricketers can handle it well. The youngsters today have seen it all before they come to the team.
What about the pressure of being the most expensive IPL player?
Oh, come on! That is just luck! Money has a certain role in my life but it cannot dictate how I approach my cricket or life. The price tag of 11 crores is a good media story, for cricketers we still have to go out and perform whatever the size of the purse.
So, is there no pressure at all?
There is, but then we have to learn to handle it better. Earlier, India would shudder at the idea of chasing big scores but I think post that famous NatWest win at Lord's in 2002. things have become different. There have been numerous occasions when we have turned it around. In general we are in better control of our emotions now.
How do you control your emotions?
I do brood a lot when things don't go right. I try to take failures in my stride but hota nahi hai (it doesn't happen). I think I handle success better but not the failures. My own expectations from my batting are too high. Recently, when I was struggling in the Test matches against New Zealand I was so dejected I told Gary Kirsten to release me from the team and let me play Ranji Trophy. Gary and my coach Sanjay Bharadwaj were of the same opinion that I'd never be satisfied till I got runs in international cricket and they were right. Aesthetically, I scored my worst half century in the Hyderabad Test. But, it proved to be the turnaround.
Most athletes say sport is about one moment and you have to recognise that.
Yes, it is. I remember hitting that one cover drive off Tim Southee in Hyderabad where I leaned into the stroke, timed it well, and it went through the gap. The follow through was complete. That was it. I was back in my element.
This will be your first World Cup, again a moment to seize?
Yes, it is. A World Cup win is about leaving a legacy; an imprint. Other wins matter but this one could decide so many things. I don't want youngsters to take up cricket because IPL is lucrative but because of the pride attached in representing the country.
What is your earliest World Cup memory?
As a player memories are pretty sad. But, as a kid they are quite memorable. I missed the U-15 World Cup in 1996 and was not selected for the under-19 World Cup. In both these years I finished as the highest run-getter in domestic tournaments, yet I wasn't picked. As it turned out, India won both these tournaments but I couldn't be a part of that. Then, again in 2007 I wasn't selected despite doing reasonably well. But I remember watching the 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Early morning telecasts and World Cup in coloured clothing was a joy to watch. I remember India had changed to dark blue outfits from the light blue version which they were wearing in the World Series Cup just before that World Cup. I didn't like the change because just before that I had my grandmother knit one sky blue pullover for me to match the India colours but sadly they turned out in darker blue for the 1992 Cup (smiles).
What does a budding cricketer go through while watching a World Cup?
You just want to be there ASAP. Imagine a budding actor watching the Oscar or Filmfare awards on telly or watching a great film. It just catapults him into a different world. I felt the same. Thankfully, I will be there, playing my first World Cup.
Are you practising kickboxing these days?
No, just shadow boxing. Actually, since I'm not playing, there is no energy release. So whenever I hit the gym I try to do something different. I tried to box and liked it. Besides, I'm reading a lot these days - autobiographies, biographies, doing breathing exercises and yoga. I also do a lot of visualising of situations which really helps.
What role does leadership play in a World Cup campaign?
Team leadership is important but I think at the international stage everyone has to think and react like a leader. We can't leave everything for MS Dhoni. For example, if I'm fielding I have to think like a captain and think what I'd have done in a given situation. When I'm batting, I have to get runs and also ensure my partner is at ease as well.
You enjoyed your 5-0 win as captain against New Zealand?
For me captaincy is a means to an end. I enjoy captaincy not only because of results but also because I can let it go as well. Things go wrong when a captain starts to worry just about holding on to his position rather than setting an example. In countries like India and Pakistan, that could be trouble.
What was the best part about those five New Zealand ODIs as captain?
Watching Munaf Patel, R Ashwin and S Sreesanth bowl as well as they did. In batting it was heartening to see Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan bat well.
I feel any system's true test is how much it helps evolve players or helps those who are struggling.
(Dinesh Chopra works for ESPN's Sportscenter)