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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Gautam Gambhir – a great Indian cricketer whose career comes to a tepid end

At a time when international teams are giving their greats made-for-TV farewells, the former opening batsman will make his last appearance in a less-than-spectacular setting

India opener Gautam Gambhir was brilliant across all formats during a career that spanned more than a decade. Reuters
India opener Gautam Gambhir was brilliant across all formats during a career that spanned more than a decade. Reuters

Hours after the Indian cricket team begin their quest to win an elusive Test series in Australia, at the Adelaide Oval on Thursday, a player they once called their own will bring his career to an end in a more austere setting.

Gautam Gambhir announced his retirement in a video message on Tuesday. The opening batsman, who has not represented his country since 2016, said he would play his last game for Delhi – his state team – in a Ranji Trophy match against Andhra Pradesh at his home ground of Feroz Shah Kotla.

“After more than 15 years of cricket for my country, I want to retire from playing this beautiful game," Gambhir said. "Despite all the aches and pains, fears and failures, I won't mind a repeat of this in my next life, too.

“But obviously with a few more wins for India, a few more hundreds and in the next life may be a few five-wicket hauls as well," added the left-hander, who is rumoured to be joining politics and, perhaps, hoping to run for office one day.

Gambhir's emotional farewell

Gambhir will be remembered as a feisty player who more often than not channelled his aggression for the benefit of his team. He also found a way to bring his ‘A’ game in the most crucial situations. His 75 in the final of the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007 against Pakistan and 97 in the 2011 50-over World Cup summit clash against Sri Lanka – both championship-winning knocks – are examples of his ability to rise to the occasion.

Tellingly though, he did not win the Man of the Match award for either effort. Irfan Pathan and MS Dhoni took home the personal accolades from those games.

It is telling because Gambhir leaves behind a mixed legacy. A batsman who scored more than 10,000 runs at international level, was a rare success across all formats and won two Indian Premier League titles with Kolkata Knight Riders should be celebrated as one of the greats of the game.

That his last competitive match will be relatively low key – a domestic game and therefore almost certainly to be played in front of few spectators – is sad, particularly at a time when international sides provide spectacular, made-for-TV farewells to honour their greats.

Gautam Gambhir led Kolkata Knight Riders to two Indian Premier League titles - in 2012 and 2014. Manjunath Kiran / AFP
Gautam Gambhir led Kolkata Knight Riders to two Indian Premier League titles - in 2012 and 2014. Manjunath Kiran / AFP

The gradual demise of Gambhir's international career began six years ago after he was dropped from the Test team following India’s home series defeat to England.

And even though Gambhir was considered a team man, he also proved to be his own person. He was reportedly never afraid to speak his mind, whether it was to his teammates or the media. His relationship with former captain Dhoni was rumoured to have been strained at one point, while he got into a needless – and very public – spat with current leader Virat Kohli in the IPL in 2013.

While he made two unsuccessful comebacks to the Test side after being dropped in 2012, it is hard to tell how much support he had within the establishment or the dressing room, and whether that had any bearing on the fact he was given so few opportunities to end his career on a high.

To be fair to the selectors, India were looking to rebuild the side by bringing in younger players. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had already retired from the game. Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan were due to follow a few months after.

Unfortunately for Gambhir, he was on the wrong side of 30 by then and the tide of change was not in his favour.

Gambhir outspoken on Twitter

Gambhir did not seem bitter about the way his career panned out in his farewell video.

"I've seen wishes come true. Two World Cups, highest run-getter in the final of both of these games is the stuff dreams are made of,” he said.

“A trophy I'll look at very fondly is the one I got for being awarded the ICC best Test batsman of the year in 2009,” he added. “For a purist like me, it is a reward for somewhat knowing where my off stump was.”

Gambhir also wished Kohli’s men the best for their series in Australia. He need not have done it, and the fact he did speaks volumes of his attitude.

"Somewhere on the top is being the No 1 Test team in the world [in 2011],” he said about his greatest accomplishment, before adding, “I do hope the current Indian team down under can overshadow our feats.”

Spoken like a team man.