If Gambhir wasn’t angry, he won’t be Gambhir. When he’s dismissed early, he sits and sulks with his pads on, snacking at his nails, lost in his private world of regret. So far, this has been an unfamiliar sight in IPL 9.
After six matches, Gambhir has scored 296 runs with three half centuries that include a ninety not out and a run out. In his column, he ripped into himself: “To begin with, my suicidal run out was uncalled for. Halfway into the second run, I knew I had given it away. I wanted to dig a hole and bury himself” By Gambhir standards, that’s almost restrained. In the dugout that day, he looked like he was on the line with the local firing squad.
It looks unlikely though that he’s in line for an India spot. The Delhi and KKR captain last played for India on 17th August 2014. It was a Test against England, his returns, a duck and three. Gambhir's last ODI for India, 27th January, 2013, he made four. And his last T20I was on 28th December, 2012, he made 21.
In the last couple of years, much has changed in India's cricketscape – Gambhir’s opening buddy, Sehwag has retired, Gambhir’s India skipper, Dhoni has partially retired, but Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Murali Vijay are yet to seal their spots in all three formats. One way or the other, there has always been an opening on top or in the middle order. One that even allowed Suresh Raina to record a pair in the last Test he played in 2015.
So regardless of what Gambhir achieves in the IPL or for Delhi, if he has to sneak back into the national squad, it will be because of the fault lines that continue to shake his replacements. In his 35th year, Gambhir isn’t over the Aravallis yet. But the selectors could well be over him.
At his best, Gambhir won India a World T20 and a World Cup. At his worst, he poked outside off, giving catching practice to the slips. That dab down to third man was his nemesis. It cost him his India cap. Leaving him even more determined, more so when the IPL came along.
Much of Gambhir’s convictions remain the same: he believes in himself much as he does in his band of brothers at KKR, in spite of their flaws, possibly because of their flaws. For, with Gambhir, it appears, to know your flaws is the best way to know your powers – Yususf Pathan, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Piyush Chawla, Surya Kumar Yadav, Andre Russell and coach Kallis, are still the core of KKR.
In his column, Gambhir often gets personal, but in an affectionate, almost awkwardly honest way about his players, like they were his immediate family. He confronts stereotypes as a cricketer columnist, not afraid to voice his opinion, be it on Salman Khan as India’s Olympic goodwill ambassador or the name change of Gurgoan. He doesn’t shudder from referring to Yusuf as a good friend or Surya’s non-acceptance in Mumbai cricket because of his flash ways. Gambhir’s honesty and straight talk is pretty much a rarity in Indian cricket’s world of doublespeak or still worse, no speak.
In 2011, he was honest enough about his disappointment at not being retained by his original IPL franchise, the Delhi Daredevils. He was honest enough about finding a new home in Kolkata with the Knightriders. And now he’s being honest enough about gunning for a third IPL title in 2016.
What he doesn’t talk about is playing for India again. Is it because that’s a bridge too far? Or is it because you build bridges, you don’t talk bridges? Perhaps he knows the difference between talking as a contender and speaking as a former India cricketer past his prime.
Either way, this grumpy, stubbled guy has much to give Indian cricket. If not as a batsman or captain, then who knows, maybe as an administrator. Both Delhi and the BCCI could do with some honesty.
Cc: Lodha Panel, Justice Mudgal