He may no longer be the India vice-captain, but that does not bother Gautam Gambhir, for he aims for a much bigger role — one that can make do without an official designation. In a freewheeling chat with HT, the opening batsman speaks out about being a leader of men beyond the playing field — and explains his sullen game face.
A long and hectic season is coming up, what are the preparations like?
We have a lot of important series coming up, so the way we start is crucial. We need to start well and build the momentum that we can carry through the season. Once the cricket starts, you need to be in peak physical shape and can't modify your technique. So, whatever changes you want to make, you have to make them right now.
Any flaws that you feel are affecting your game?
Not really. Deep down, you are the only one who knows how you're playing, and I feel I've been hitting the ball really well. Sometimes, you end up scoring despite being scratchy, but I feel I was in good touch during the IPL.
You've been amongst runs in the shorter formats, but your form in Tests hasn't been great.
It's true that I haven't got a 100 in a while now. In Tests, each run is a task. When you open the innings, your average is bound to go up and down. Mine was in the 40s and climbed to the 50s before going down a bit. Being comfortable with your game is most important. If I consistently get my side off to good starts, my job as an opener is done. People forget that one batsman scoring a 100 doesn't guarantee success for the team. Individuals are supposed to contribute, but that contribution can be anything.
So you are not bothered about your form?
Of course, it's a concern. But lack of centuries isn't - 100's just a number for me. Sadly, in India, we only give credit to big contributions like centuries.
As a team, India have had a string of disappointing results.
I'm not one to find excuses. We didn't deserve to win in England or Australia. We need to give credit to our opponents, who never let us off the hook. But we should let bygones be bygones, and rectify the mistakes.
There were issues that cropped up towards the end of the Oz tour, like the rotation policy.
It was the captain's decision — he wanted to give the younger guys exposure, since the next World Cup is in Australia. There might be differences in the dressing room, but at the end of the day, there's one constant - the desire to win for India.
But in the aftermath, you were stripped of vice-captaincy...
You don't need a designation to bring about change — all you need is the fire within. I'll be happier if I score and help India win than if I'm vice-captain and we lose. Besides, I don't get picked to be vice-captain; my job is to score runs, not to see vice-captain written against my name.
But do you, potentially, see yourself as a future India captain?
I potentially see myself scoring a lot of runs. Hopefully, I can do that and be a part of a winning team overseas. Like I've maintained, a captain is only as good as his team. But if I'm ever given the honour of captaining the national side, I'd be more than glad to take it up.
You always keep reiterating that a captain is only as good as his team. But a skipper does have a certain role, tactical and otherwise. Don't you enjoy that?
Of course I do. I've always loved responsibility of any kind. But I've always wanted to be a leader. It's very easy to be a captain, but very difficult to be a leader. Now your next question will be, 'what's the difference between the two?' Well, one is a captain only for six hours on the field, while being a leader is a 24-hour job that happens off the field, too.
So you're saying you can be a leader without being a captain?
I don't need a designation for people to walk up to me and share whatever they want to. Anyone should feel comfortable to approach me about not just cricket but also their issues. That is what a leader is all about. A leader needs to create a secure atmosphere where players can go out and express themselves. I understand the insecurities a player faces; I've always been insecure. Even now, I'm insecure when I'm playing for India.
And why's that?
That's the kind of individual I am, but people make a big deal out of it. They say I don't enjoy my game. I say, 'I don't have to'. My enjoyment doesn't contribute to the game, my performance does. As long as I'm not passing on my insecurities to those around me, they're not anybody else's problem. I want to win at any cost, so to that end, if I want to be serious or tense on the field, let me be so.
But you can be serious about the game and, at the same time, enjoy it too, right?
That differs from person to person. For me, being intense has always worked. When I walk onto the field, I mean business. Cricket's my profession. I'm not out there to enjoy. For those six hours, I can do without having fun.
The upcoming season will be one of transition. Dravid has retired and other veterans too are ageing...
You can't expect anyone to step into Rahul's shoes immediately. Unfortunately in India, whoever's picked is immediately expected be the ideal replacement.
What's your assessment of the young crop?
I've always believed that Rohit Sharma is a special talent, even though he has not done justice to it so far. I think he'll go on to score a lot of runs for India. Cheteshwar Pujara has been doing well at home, as has Ajinkya Rahane, but if you ask me to pick one person, Rohit stands out.
There's always talk of too much cricket leading to fitness issues.
In India, people tend to see more of the negatives than focusing on the positives. Everyone, including those in Parliament, are quick to criticise the IPL, but I feel it's been fantastic. It gives us a bigger pool of players to choose from, which is the only way to lessen injuries.
You talk about IPL as a feeder. What about first-class cricket?
If someone has performed well, he should be get a look-in. There was a time when a lot of players from the under-19 team were being drafted into the senior side, which should never be the case. If you do that, you are not giving credit to the people who are performing in Ranji, which is supposed to be the feeder for a berth in the Test side.