Gautam Gambhir has seen it all in his career. The left-handed batsman was the top scorer for India both in the 2007 World T20 and the 2011 World Cup finals, guiding the men in blue to victory.
He formed a formidable opening partnership in Tests with Virender Sehwag, scoring nine centuries in the longest format.
But a run of low scores and injury following the 2011 World Cup saw Gambhir being sidelined with the selectors going for the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and now KL Rahul.
However, Gambhir continued to toil away in the domestic circuit and remained in the limelight as captain of the Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL.
The left-handed batsman returned to the Test side after a gap of two years against New Zealand in September last year in place of the injured Rahul. He made 29 and 50 against the Kiwis but also injured his shoulder.
He was then picked one more time against England for the Rajkot Test in November before being sidelined again after scores of 29 and nought.
With Rahul and Vijay looking solid at the top of the order in the Test team, the road ahead looks tough for the 35-year-old Gambhir but he is concentrating on making the most out of the chances provided to him.
“When I joined the Indian team, it was one the best moments of my life. Comebacks are never easy because when you are not part of the team, motivation sometimes can be an issue,” Gambhir said.
“But it was never a problem for me because I always wanted to play for the team, whichever the format. When I got my chance, I got injured while batting. I wanted to come back and make it count. I got a fifty, but would have been happy to get a hundred. But whatever comes your way, you take it.”
What stood out during those few outings in Tests was a changed stance, with Gambhir batting with his shoulders a lot more open and him facing the bowler, a bit like West Indies great Shivinarine Chanderpaul. It’s something that Gambhir is happy to work with.
“I went to Australia after the IPL in 2015. I wanted to go to someone who had a similar game to mine. I zeroed in on [former Australia opener] Justin Langer. He suggested I open my stance so that I can play more shots all around the ground. I am very comfortable with it. It looks a bit different but I am able to control my strokes, both off the back foot and front foot.”
While he has changed his stance, the Indian team too seems to have altered its approach, with captain Virat Kohli making aggression a central theme of his leadership.
Gambhir believes India have been playing aggressively for many years but the demeanour of Kohli has put it in the spotlight a lot more.
“The desire to do well was there across generations. Be it Sourav Ganguly or Anil Kumble or Rahul Dravid. That desire to win was always there. In that sense there isn’t any change in approach,” Gambhir observed.
“In regards to team culture, there is a new sort of aggression. Most of the boys are under 30, including Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja. When I was 25, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan were of similar age, we too would think we can take on anything and everything. So that’s the attitude in this dressing room. I have played with Sachin Tendulkar and now with the younger generation. The desire to win is the same.”
Coming to the captaincy of his Delhi state-mate Kohli, the southpaw lauded the confidence he provides to young players, something that is crucial to perform under pressure.
Kohli’s behaviour has been in focus, and also attracted criticism, throughout the home season but for Gambhir it’s all about the mindset.
“There are two kinds of leaders. There are ones who lead from the front and those who push from the back. Virat likes to lead from the front, he wants to do things nobody expects. In that sense he is more in your face. When I am leading I am also similar. I want to do that extra lap or do 10-15 extra minutes on the treadmill so that the players think that if the seniors can do it, so can they,” he said.
“Apart from that, what I see there is a lot of security given to younger players. There is no sword hanging over the heads. Which is remarkable with the amount of competition. That security which Kohli and (coach) Kumble have provided is really good.
“When Anil was captain, he started the culture that whenever any played went out of the team due to injury, he would straightaway walk into the team when fit. That’s what we saw again when Karun Nair made way for Rahane, despite scoring a triple century (against England).
“It happened with me as well. I scored a fifty but I was a replacement for KL Rahul. I was told that the replacement has to make way for the original member of the team. “It has multiple effect.”
“Firstly, the player will inform the team immediately if he is unfit. Because he knows his place is there once he is fit. It also gives a sense of security that if the player is diving around for the team, he is not worried that if he is injured he will lose his place in the side. It is very important for the dressing room.”
The focus of cricket fans across the world now shifts to the IPL. Gambhir is only looking at his performances in the tournament and is not thinking about making a statement to national selectors.
“All tournaments are important for me, be it Syed Mushtaq Ali [domestic T20 tournament] or the IPL. Of course, the hype is more around IPL as it is televised. But for me or any professional cricketer, every game that we play is important.”
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