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I play for India, I play for people of my country

On the day of the final, HT brings you Gautam Gambhir, the 'Street fighter', who cares more about the team winning than his own hundred.

india Updated: Apr 02, 2011 00:46 IST
Dinesh Chopra

Going silent before a match works well for Gautam Gambhir. But on the eve of the World Cup final against Sri Lanka, the left-hander bared his heart in an exclusive interview to the Hindustan Times. Excerpts:

Three fifties in eight matches, three lost opportunities of getting a World Cup hundred or are you satisfied?
Satisfaction is the wrong word. As a performer, you can never be satisfied. I am happy that I could play a part in the team reaching the final. There is no good in getting a hundred and the team losing.

You feel you could have done more?
I'd be really proud if I had stayed till the end to see my team through, either getting the winning runs or playing out the 50 overs.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell wrote in a column that you should not have been in the XI.
That is the problem in our system. Whatever good or bad is said by former cricketers is considered gospel. Our media should not blow out of proportion the opinion of former cricketers. It is easy for Ian Chappell to sit in an air-conditioned box and pass judgment, but I respect the opinion of my team management. If they want me to serve drinks, I'll merrily do that. I am playing a role asked by my team management, Chappell, or anyone else, doesn't know the requirements off a particular player. He should look after his team; Australia crashed out in the quarterfinals and also lost the Ashes.

Did his comments motivate you to do well against Australia?
I don't play for Ian Chappell. I play for India, I play for the 100 million people of my country.

And those 100 million people would be desperate for you to win.
We are aware and will give our best. And if we win the final, for me, it'll be dedicated to the people who lost their lives in the 26/11 massacre. To my mind, a win against Pakistan and a win in the final and that too in Mumbai should be dedicated to those victims.

Do you think that will soothe their pain?
I am sure the win against Pakistan would have helped. Once on a trip to Jammu, I met some army men. They told me whatever we do, whoever we play; we should never lose to Pakistan. One of them was posted at the Indo-Pak border and was so emotional that he suggested that I should have a tattoo on my body saying, "I will never lose to Pakistan".

Do you have one?
No, it's not on my body but is etched on my heart and soul.

What will it do to India and Indian cricket if your team wins?
There will be frenzy but I hope that people do not lose perspective. Yes, it is the World Cup but then bigger issues in our country like population, crime and corruption need to be resolved. For Indian cricket, I hope it inspires youngsters to work harder but I'd restrain from saying anything else as we need to win the game first.

Would you have a bigger role to play against the Sri Lanka spinners?
It's about everybody in the group and not me alone. Yes, their spinners are world class and the onus is on us to counter them.

Apart from the last game against Pakistan where you were out to a spinner, you play spin the best - something that even coach Gary Kirsten endorses.
That and my running between the wickets have to do with street cricket in Delhi. I grew up playing on unprepared surfaces where your wicket depended on quickly adapting to the bounce. As a kid, I could never differentiate off-spin from leg-spin. All I looked to do was to try to hit the ball before it pitched. That became part of my system and I just developed my batting along the same lines.

Has Gary given you a new name after calling you 'Banker' and 'Rock' earlier?
Yeah, this time it is street-fighter and I don't know why he has given me that name. But I am fine with it..

We know that you are usually hard on yourself. Has it gotten worse in WC?
Yes, I'm the same grumpy Gautam who smiles very less on the field. I go very quiet before going into the match. I guess it works for me though my team-mates keep telling me it is just a game.

They are right. Look at Yuvraj, he has turned it around, why do you worry so much?
Yuvi is a class act. I said even before the World Cup that he can win us the tournament. He has been brilliant.

(Dinesh Chopra works for ESPN's SPORTSCENTER)