And fools who came to scoff, remained to pray. Well, he doesn’t nearly say as much, but there's a certain newfound assurance in his tone, a refreshing assertiveness in his glances that make it amply clear that Gautam Gambhir is a changed man.
His handshake, perhaps, said it all. The last time one met Gambhir, that palm was clammy, the demeanour somewhat nervous. Australia, after all, loomed ahead. However, this time around, the grip was steady, the smile unusually pronounced — the CB Series’ highest run-getter was high on confidence and it showed in his swagger.
Gambhir is quick to insist that he has none of the stereotypical negatives — brashness, impudence, conceit — of the new Indian generation he represents. He has his feet firmly on terra firma, he asserts. But when you have faced as many questions about your temperament and ability to perform at the highest level as Gambhir has — there were charges of dilettantism by former cricketers as well — it is only natural to feel vindicated and show it, however inconsistent that might be, given the southpaw’s natural taciturnity.
“I love to prove my critics wrong,” Gambhir says straight off, even before you can ask him about the immense satisfaction he must have derived from flying through a fiery Australian baptism.
“I have always had a few more critics than other players, and naturally, it feels great to have done so well, even though I have always taken the criticism positively. It is important to have critics and equally important to not take criticism personally.”
At the same time, he is enjoying the sudden attention a capricious media is bestowing on him, but is determined to not let it go to his head. The trappings of success sit easy on Gambhir’s calm visage.
“I don’t mind the attention, I really don’t. I have seen so many ups and downs in my life that I know I won't get carried away. Cricket is a funny game; one day you are a king, the very next, a pauper. Don’t expect me to lose my head in the clouds,” he muses philosophically, before adding that the tour had only served to whet his appetite further.
A pragmatist by disposition, Gambhir said he knew he was “walking to the gallows” before leaving for Australia. Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid had been axed, amidst some protests and there would be a lot riding on how he did in a country where many a career had been brutally cut short.
“Since the day I started playing cricket, pressure has walked by my side. Even then, I was a little apprehensive this time around. I had to put my hand up in the absence of senior players and I did just that. Ask any cricketer where he would rather excel and he would say Australia,” he said.
So what did he do to alleviate the tension, and when did he feel that it was going to be his summer? “My tour started on a damp note. I could not have a feel of the wickets as it was raining cats and dogs when I landed, and we were confined to indoor nets. The only outing we had was during the T20 in Melbourne, where we were smashed. But thankfully for me, I was taking a lot of confidence into Australia. I had done well in the Ranji Trophy and that stood me in good stead.” he reminisced.
But was there one definitive moment when he felt that this was going to be his summer?
“Yup, there was. It was my very first knock of 39 against Australia, that knock changed everything. A cricketer is always battling self-doubt, especially in a place as intimidating as Australia. But that knock of 39 worked wonders. It made me believe that what I was doing in the Ranji was no different to what I had to do here to succeed. That was indeed the changing point that led to my two most special moments: hundreds against Australia and Sri Lanka,” he grinned.
It has been an overwrought, somewhat turbulent journey so far for the emotional Gambhir, one riddled with a mixture of some good luck, some bad misses, and days of graft, toil and some silent tears. Now that he has finally arrived, he wants it all.
“When you are in this kind of form, you want to play every game. I don’t want to sit at home. I want to play Test cricket and open for India. Let’s hope it happens soon,” he says before mumbling a silent prayer under his breath.
And that was that. He couldn’t keep the incessantly ringing cellphone at bay any more. There were more interviews to do, more journalists to oblige, more pictures to pose for, more “madness”!
It surely doesn’t get better than this, you ask. “It does, it will,” he smiles back. “I often made the mistake of leaving my dreams unfinished. This time around, I'm determined to see things through."
For many people so far, Gambhir has remained the quintessential backroom boy, someone who has done all the hard work, but seldom garnered the glory. This Australian summer though, might have just seen a very special coming of age.