It was back in August 2014 that Gautam Gambhir last played a Test for India. It was against England at the Oval and his scores were 0 and 3 in that Test. Post that Test, Gambhir was dropped from the Test squad and there was almost like a vacuum in the international scene for the left-handed opener. Gambhir though continued to lead his IPL franchise and got back to the riguours of domestic cricket. Time and again after a good knock for his respective teams, he would be asked about an international comeback and whether he was eyeing one soon. Gambhir, the team player would brush aside talks of comebacks and would assert the fact of putting his side ahead of individual interests.
Now, with some meaningful performances in the recently concluded Duleep Trophy, Gambhir caught the eye of the selectors making a comeback of sorts after two years. This, after opener KL Rahul was ruled out of the remainder of the Test series against New Zealand owing to an injured hamstring. Gambhir joined the team and looked comfortable with the rest of the squad during India’s practice sessions on the eve of the 2nd Test.
“It’s a feeling of being nervous, it’s a feeling of being excited as well,” Gambhir told BCCI.TV. “Obviously whenever you get to represent your country, especially in Test cricket, the most important format of the game, it is very exciting. Very few people get to play with the blue cap on and for me to get that chance one more time is an unbelievable feeling.”
But what is natural to feel nervous for someone who has played international cricket for such a long time? “I think that is going to happen with everyone,” he said. “Whether you play a hundred Test matches or you have played one Test match, when you approach a Test match you are nervous. During the start of a Test match, there are bound to be butterflies and it is good to have them. The important thing here is how much you can control your emotions. As an opening batsman, I have always felt at the start of day 1 if you go in first, you will always have nerves but they will eventually settle down the more time you spend time in the middle. It is not that someone being experienced won’t be nervous, everyone feels that and it is good.”
It might be a good feeling to have now that he is back in the mix, but Gambhir was of the view that the road to this has not been very easy. He had to channelise his thoughts and introspect on the mental side of his game rather than getting into batting technicalities. It was more about self belief and confidence according to Gambhir. “I have made a few technical changes over the past two years but mostly it was more mental. It was more about trying to get all your doubts out of the system which is very important. For someone who has been playing international cricket for a very long time, you have certain kind of targets set for yourself, and then when you are not doing really the way you should be doing; doubts start creeping in. When you go away from the game and are not part of the international side, you need to negate all those doubts and comeback having more belief in your game.”
That he did as he piled on 356 runs in the recently concluded Duleep Trophy scoring briskly with four half centuries missing out on worth tons. But never once were his performances in the tournament a mode for an international comeback according to Gambhir. “Honestly, I was not thinking of a comeback even when I was getting runs in the Duleep Trophy. My reasons of playing cricket are very different. I have always believed that whichever team I represent; be it the Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL or Delhi in the Ranji Trophy or playing for a side in the Duleep trophy, I as an individual have a job and responsibility to go and contribute for the team’s success.
“I just want to be a part of a winning dressing room and that is where the happiness is and that is what a happy dressing room is all about. Whenever you play a game of cricket, you want to get back to a happy dressing room. Even after Duleep Trophy the feeling was that we won the competition and not thinking or (was) too much worried about selection.”
Back to the grind, Gambhir was seen going through India’s regular training drills. He spent some time in the nets, looked comfortable with the rest of the team members and looked satisfied with his first day back in white flannels. “I loved my first day at the nets. I had great interactions with most of them. I have played a lot of cricket with most of these guys. Whenever you have runs behind your back, you always feel confident but Test cricket is a different ball game and it is more of a mental challenge than a technical challenge. Once the Test match starts, and you get into your groove, you will feel a lot better. The feeling in the nets is different to the feeling in the middle.”
Gambhir is eager to start afresh and with a clear mind. “I have set no targets at all. I am not setting too many targets. I am going to take each game at a time and try and win each game I am going to be a part of. That is what I play this game for. It is all about contributing to the team and winning a game of cricket. Most important thing in a team sport is winning the game irrespective of how individuals do. I have always maintained that individuals are only there to contribute. The team is doing well; hopefully we can seal the series in this game.”