Gautam Gambhir played a key role in India’s 2011 World Cup triumph © Getty
Exactly a decade after India won the 2011 World Cup at home, Gautam Gambhir, who cracked 97 in the final against Sri Lanka, talks to TOI about the multiple heroes of that triumph. Excerpts…
Do you look back and savour the moment?
I don’t look back at things because I think it’s time to move forward. Indian cricket can’t keep thinking how we won the World Cup in 2011. I said exactly the same thing that time too. It’s about looking ahead. We did something which we were supposed to achieve. We didn’t do something which we weren’t supposed to do. People can keep saying a lot of things and keep praising themselves, but I’m not that kind of a person. For me, what we’ve done is over. What we need to do is more important.
Last year, you tweeted that the triumph wasn’t about one man but the whole team, after a website hailed Dhoni’s famous six as the ‘shot that sealed the World Cup’…
I’m going to ask you the same question: do you think that only one individual won us the World Cup? If one individual could have won the World Cup, then India could have won all the World Cups till now. Unfortunately, in India, it’s only about worshipping certain individuals. I’ve never believed in that. In a team sport, individuals have no place.
It’s all about contributions. Can you forget Zaheer Khan’s contribution, what he did in the first spell of the final, where he bowled three maidens in a row? Can you forget what Yuvraj Singh did against Australia? Or for that matter, Sachin Tendulkar’s hundred against South Africa? Why do we keep remembering about one six? If one six can win you the World Cup, then I think Yuvraj Singh should have won six World Cups for India, because he hit six sixes in an over (against England in the 2007 World T20 in Durban).
No one talks about Yuvraj. He was the ‘man of the tournament’ in both 2007 and 2011. And we keep talking about that one six.
Was that 97 in the final the most special knock of your career? Do you feel it got the kind of attention it deserved?
It wasn’t the most memorable knock for me, because every knock of mine which has helped India win is memorable. Every run which has helped the country is more important. When you say that my 97 hasn’t been talked about, it’s the media which doesn’t speak about it. But the normal individuals, wherever I go, they talk about it.
And that’s my biggest achievement. Not the 97 I scored, but when people come up to me and say ‘thank you for the World Cup,’ that’s my biggest achievement. That’s the biggest medal which I’ve won. The media can talk about certain individuals, which it’ll always do. It doesn’t bother me one bit because I didn’t play for the media.
You got four half-centuries, so you were in good form in that World Cup…
I thought the guy in best touch was Yuvraj. And it is not about scoring runs. See, people will score runs. It’s about scoring runs at the right moment. When it comes to the knockouts, the crunch situations, then it’s about your mental toughness. I won’t degrade any opposition, runs are runs, but when you can get the runs in the quarterfinals, semis and the final, that sets you apart.
That is what decides what kind of form you are in, because you know that there’s no scope for a mistake. Therefore, I always say that Yuvraj was in very good touch. I remember in a league game, against Ireland in Bangalore, we were in a spot of bother, and he won us the game. He also got a half-century against England.
Despite being an opener, you played at No. 3, allowing Sachin and Sehwag to open. Was it difficult to adjust?
Except in one game, I played at No. 3 throughout. For me, more importantly, it’s not about the number. It’s about having the opportunity of playing in a World Cup final, which not many people have. It’s about what the team and the captain and team management want from you.
Even if they’d have wanted me to bat at No. 6 or 7, I would’ve happily done that. That’s how I look at a team sport. A lot of people have spoken about wanting to bat at certain positions. There’s no place for that kind of discussion in my dictionary.
How did the team cope with the pressure of immense home expectations?
I can’t talk on behalf of the other individuals. All I can say is that for me, the platform never mattered. For me, all that mattered was the contest between bat and ball. Had it not been Lasith Malinga, and had it been a Ranji Trophy bowler and I was playing a Ranji Trophy final, I would have prepared in the same way, because ultimately, it’s not bowler versus batsman, it’s ball versus bat.
I’m not good at doing many things but taking the platform or the occasion out of my mindset is easy for me, because any game that I’ve played, I’ve always played it with the same intensity. All that mattered was that I had to be better in that contest.
The build-up to the triumph started when India won the CB series in 2008. The team had begun to find a set of match-winners and was gelling well as a unit…
For me, it’s important that you can have a settled unit eight months before the World Cup. It always helps. If you keep experimenting, checking on players, you’ll always be very confused, because there’s so much talent in India. There will always be talent in India because of the amount of people, kids who play cricket.
However, if you keep checking out players, keep giving them opportunities, there’ll always be more competition. The more the competition, the more will be the insecurity.
I’m not against giving opportunity to players, but I’m always in favour of giving enough opportunities to players to test them, and then probably test the next one. You can’t test any player just by giving him two or three games and then you turn around and say: ‘There’s so much competition for places.’ It’s good to have competition for places, but it’s even worse to have insecurity among the players. Our squad was pretty settled around eight months before the World Cup, and that is why people could go out and express themselves.
Most of the guys in that squad knew that they would be a part of the World Cup team.
“No one talks about Yuvraj. He was the ‘man of the tournament’ in both 2007 and 2011. And we keep talking about that one six”
“No one talks about Yuvraj. He was the ‘man of the tournament’ in both 2007 and 2011. And we keep talking about that one six” ©Getty
There were a few unsung heroes of that campaign. Munaf Patel bowled some incisive spells. Ashish Nehra bowled well in the semifinal against Pakistan…
There were 13, or probably 14 unsung heroes of that World Cup win! Munaf, me, Harbhajan Singh, Virat Kohli, who got a hundred in the first game, Suresh Raina, who played a very crucial knock against Pakistan – all these players’ contributions were unbelievable. For that matter, when I look back at it today after 10 years, I feel Yuvraj is an unsung hero as well, despite being ‘man of the tournament.’ You won’t talk about him, but people do talk about that one six for sure. All those contributions made India win the World Cup.
Yuvraj chipped in as the fifth bowler as well, taking so many wickets…
People say that I’m the unsung hero of that victory, but for me, he’s the biggest unsung hero of both the World Cup wins for India. I’m sure that without his contribution, India wouldn’t have won the 2011 World Cup. For me, he was the biggest player in both the World Cups.
If I must name one player who won India both the World Cups, it must be Yuvraj and no one else. Yes, I got a 75 in the 2007 World T20 final and was the highest run-getter in the final. However, what he did, I don’t think anyone else can match that.
How did the team cope with the pressure of the semifinal against Pakistan in Mohali?
I don’t think that we played well but we still managed to win that game! We were probably mediocre. We should have got more runs than the 260-odd we got. We won that much because of Suresh Raina’s innings.
But then again, it’s about winning. Perhaps our best game came against Australia in the quarterfinals. It’s not about Pakistan, to be honest. I don’t believe in all that stuff that playing Pakistan is more emotional, or a pressure game. Ultimately, you don’t watch the colour of the jersey. You watch the cricket ball. That’s all that matters.
A lot of stars in that team lost their places soon after that triumph…
That question can be answered better by the coach, captain and the selectors, because I was neither. Obviously, you feel sad that you could not go on to defend the World Cup. How many people (from the 2011 team) got a chance to defend the World Cup (in 2015)…very few, two or three, I think. It must have hurt Yuvraj, Harbhajan, all of those who were a part of the 2011 team, to not be able to defend the World Cup. That’s life. You can’t look back.
Any special anecdote that you remember from that tournament?
I remember one thing. We were playing against the West Indies in Chennai, and we had more than 600-700 bats in our dressing room! I mean, you can imagine having that many bats in the dressing room can be embarrassing! Even the bowlers had 10 bats each. We kept getting these bats from all the companies, which was a bit of a surprise. Since we were not allowed to go back home throughout the tournament, we kept getting these bats from them.
Coach Gary Kirsten also played a big role with his calming influence…
He was a very good man manager. He worked hard, threw a lot of balls (at the batsmen). Ultimately in international sport, it’s all about being a good man manager. You don’t need to teach someone technical stuff, unless there’s a massive problem. If he can be hard working, gel with the group well, that’s all that’s required. And he had both these qualities.
Do you think that Kohli and Co. can emulate your bunch later this year or in 2023?
See, I’m not an astrologer, but I hope they do, because very few people get the opportunity to play in a World Cup for their country. A lot of things change between one World Cup and the other one. These players will be very fortunate that they’d be playing three World Cups in a row. They’ll have a great opportunity to perhaps do something special for the country, and I hope they do.