Gautam Gambhir was in Dubai en route to the capital from South Africa in January 2011 when he came to know that his IPL team, Delhi Daredevils, had not retained him. He was hurt, says his long-time coach Sanjay Bharadwaj, who also recalls Gambhir telling him that Calcutta has given him the honour that Delhi had denied.
“He was a little down. It happens when you don’t get retained, you have a feeling of being unwanted. He told me that he would justify the honour that Calcutta had given him and since that day prayed to god that he would win the IPL for the city. He was humbled by the respect that he got from Calcutta,” says Bharadwaj, who has coached Gambhir since he was 10 years old.
Gambhir, who did not know much about Calcutta before he joined the Knight Riders as captain, got pointers on Bengali culture from Bharadwaj. “I told him that the people of Calcutta are emotional and sentimental. If you do something for them, they will remember you forever, unlike Delhi which only remembers the last performance,” says the coach.
On Monday, when Gambhir called Bharadwaj from Chennai, the first thing he said was “I shouldn’t have played that shot” referring to the miscue that got him bowled. “Then he asked me if I was happy. I told him to enjoy the moment and that we would talk about the shot later,” says Bharadwaj.
The IPL winning captain’s coaches and team-mates vouch for his stoicism in the face of adversity, even in school and club-level matches.
“If he was dropped after scoring a 100, next time, he would score a 200. He would never say that the selector or someone else was responsible for him not being picked,” says Raju Tandon, who coached Gambhir for four years from when he was 15 years old.
What neither of the coaches nor teammates who has played with him for over 10 years could recall was Gambhir having fun on a tour.
“Cricket was always serious business for him. He was not a party boy. He always told me that he wanted the Knight Riders to be one of the top two teams after the league. This is his greatest strength: always wanting more,” said Delhi Ranji player and Gautam’s roommate on tours for 10 years, Amit Bhandari.
Those who have seen Gambhir over the years remember the mettle he showed in 2000 after being ignored for the under-19 Indian team for the World Cup in Sri Lanka despite scoring the highest in the trials. Within six months, Gambhir scored 220 runs in a day against the England under-19 team and made it to the India A squad.
“He was a great fan of Sourav Ganguly and his dream was to bat alongside him. He always used to think and discuss only batting. He never talked about leading the side till he played Ranji. He used to ‘knock’ and shadow practice a lot, and bore fellow cricketers by asking many questions about other batsmen and batting styles,” says Siddhartha Verma, another Ranji team-mate of Gambhir.
According to him, the Hanumanji devotee’s (“He chants Hanuman Chalisa every morning without fail”) favourite mantra is “If not now then when, if not me then who”.