Gautam Gambhir was a player who once made you care for him. Earnestness seeped through his visage. Here was an international player who openly talked about his insecurities, self-doubts, and his struggles.
Even when he failed, he made you step back from the passions of the moment to understand, through his innate sincerity, the darker and deeper motivations that run through a sportsman trying to battle it out at the top.
|India ‘A’ skipper Gautam Gambhir with teammate MS Gony during a practice session in Chennai yesterday
He was never a great player to watch, didn’t have great technique, but someone who was always waged a battle of mind over his body. Somewhere in the last 18 months, that old Gambhir began to fade away.
Something happened; it’s difficult to say what. A lazy guess will be that the fame and the charm of power got to him but that will be just a speculation. It’s more accurate to see the change through its effects.
Questions on his form were met with sanctimonious speeches on how hundreds don’t matter. It was bizarre. Here he was struggling to get starts, and on rare occasions he did he was failing to convert them, and he was talking about hundreds.
If it was a lesser man, it would have been tempting to see it as cunning, albeit flawed, strategy to ward off criticism. Because of his sincere past, you strove to understand him. It was perhaps, one reasoned, his way to combat self-doubts.
Unlike many of us, top sportsmen excel at such pressure situations not because they are devoid of self-doubts but because they know how to suppress them.
They don’t like to acknowledge it as that very act might drag them deeper into an abyss. Perhaps, Gambhir was doing just that. Maybe he carried that act of selfpreservation too far and that was his mistake.
As that psychology cliché goes, unless you acknowledge that you have slipped, erred, you can’t change the situation. The first step is acceptance. Some of us arrive at that stage a tad too early, almost in panic, some never do, and some like Gambhir try avoiding that stage.
He was definitely lucky that there was no great competition to his spot and he kept getting chances. He last scored a Test hundred three years ago.
The first signs of his combative spirit popped up on his twitter page last Sunday, the day he was dropped for the first two Tests against Australia. “No sympathies plz … Had my bak to d wall in d past 2, dis is no difrent. Will fight,” he tweeted. Hopefully this is an acceptance that he needs to improve and not a closing of walls inside his mind.
Hopefully, this won’t regress into self-pity and a persecution complex. We have seen that in few other cricketers who were dropped before. And of course most of us do that in our own lives for it’s difficult to stand apart and see oneself. It’s not as if Gambhir didn’t try hard during his struggles.
Right through Australia one saw him sweating it out in the nets with the coach Duncan Fletcher on his game but the problems outside off stump refused to disappear.
The head started to fall, the footwork began to show that resultant panic, the hands, that held the bat, seemed self-destructively attracted to the ball, and he looked like a walking wicket on any track that did something.
Gambhir is still lucky. There is no serious competition still. M Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan are yet to prove that they belong at that level. And he is just 31, not an age to lie down and surrender.
And if his tweets are anything to go by, he won’t. He gets his first chance today as he leads India A in a three-day game against Australians in Chennai. He is an aggressive individual but his aggression isn’t macho.
It’s almost endearingly vulnerable, of a man trying to prove himself, a man at a battle with himself if not the world. With Gambhir, cricket isn’t a joyous activity. “I don't think I enjoy too much of cricket, to be honest. I think for me, cricket is something which is my priority,” he said once.
So, if not joy, if he can get his priorities right, and re-discover his old earnest self, he can still make a comeback.