Despite being in fine touch with the bat in the ongoing domestic season, opening batsman Gautam Gambhir on December 9 retired from all forms of cricket after a 21-year first-class career. After an abysmal IPL 2018 season, during which he managed just 85 runs in six matches as the Delhi Daredevils captain, he quit captaincy midway during the tournament – and let go his entire Rs 2.80 crore fee as he felt he hadn’t contributed enough towards the team. How many players would do that? This domestic season, the left-hander returned to form in the limited-overs Vijay Hazare Trophy, finishing the tournament with the second highest aggregate -- 510 runs at 51.80, with 10 matches – behind Abhinav Mukund (560 runs in nine matches). Then, in three Ranji Trophy matches, he scored 266 runs, including a fine century in his farewell match against Andhra at his home ground, the Feroze Shah Kotla. Outlook spoke to Gambhir at his Old Rajinder Nagar residence in New Delhi.
Excerpts from the interview:
How tough was the decision to retire and how many people did you consult?
Only my family and my childhood coach. I have always maintained that I played cricket because I wanted to play for India. So, if your runs can’t take you anywhere, there’s no point playing. I never had this ambition of scoring, say, 20,000 runs and stuff as that was never my goal. This season I was hitting the ball as well as ever [518 runs in Vijay Hazare Trophy and 266 in three Ranji Trophy matches]. As I said, if you can’t go anywhere forward, there’s no point playing. A lot of people ask me that I could have still played the IPL. But, for me, the IPL was also a platform to go on to play for India. It was not that the IPL was there to earn money or anything.
Did your IPL 2018 performance [85 runs in six matches] have any bearing on your decision?
Absolutely not. I played six games and they are not the parameter [to judge] what you’ve done in the last 10 or 11 years.
You were the top scorer in two World Cup finals – 97 runs in the 2007 T20 World Cup and 97 in the 50-over World Cup in 2011. Are these knocks closet to your heart?
The innings closet to my heart is what I did in New Zealand in 2009 [almost 11-hour, 436-ball 137 in the Napier Test that helped drew the match], and, winning a series in New Zealand [1-0]. That is my biggest achievement.
Sri Lanka surprisingly made four changes in their XI in 2011 World Cup final in Mumbai. Was it an advantage for India or a disadvantage?
I hadn’t even had a look at their XI as it didn’t matter to me.
In both finals, you were in the reckoning but not adjudged the Man of the Match. Was that of any consideration to you?
I would lie if I say that it didn’t hurt. It did, and it will, because growing up as a kid you wanted to be a Man of the Match in a World Cup final. And you did whatever was possible in your capacity to win the Man of the Match, but you didn’t get it.
You opened the innings with several batsmen. Which batsman you were most comfortable and enjoyed batting with?
Rahul Dravid, hands down. He gave me a lot of calmness on the cricket field. Looking at him just from the non-striker’s end, just his aura and his persona, gave me a lot of calmness. That’s why we had some massive partnerships in international cricket.
With Virender Sehwag also you had a good partnership at the top.
Yeah, absolutely. It was important to build a good partnership for the team. Partners didn’t matter. Ultimately, for me, the most important thing was not who I am opening with; it was what I wanted to do on that particular day and contribute to Indian cricket.
You look a serious person, but you would often flare up on the field. Did you use it to concentrate more?
Probably concentrate more. And that’s the kind of character I am. I enjoyed the fight and I loved the challenge. That has probably kept me going for all these years, because I believed in action and that pepped me up while being in the battle. It got the best out of me.
Did you start conversations with the opposing players?
Honestly, I never started the conversation because as a batsman you generally don’t start a confrontation. But there have been times when I was sledged; nothing wrong in that. I love sledging to the core, till it doesn’t get personal. It got the best out of me. Since you are representing your country, emotions are bound to come out because you are not statues or robots.
How did you look at captaincy and were you comfortable captaining teams?
I have captained everything – Modern School (Barakhamba Road, Delhi), Delhi under-16 and 19, ONGC, Delhi Ranji Trophy team, BCCI Board President’s XI in Irani Trophy match, Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Daredevils in IPL, North Zone, and India in ODIs. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It gave me a responsibility and an opportunity to showcase my ability as a leader, not just as a captain.
You look serious but the moment you have a bat in hand you become aggressive.
It’s because I had to fight for everything that I have achieved. As a 12-year old kid, I should have got selected [in Delhi junior team], but I wasn’t, and then I wasn’t picked for under-19 World Cup in 2000 and then the 2007 and 2015 50-over World Cups – all that made me aggressive and kept me on my toes all the time.
Which World Cup you thought you were the closest to being selected?
It was the under-19 World Cup in 2000. That season I was the highest run getter in under-19 cricket in India, and still I wasn’t selected. That hurt me a lot. For the 2007 World Cup, I thought I was very, very close to selection – and I deserved to part of the team. It was the lowest moment of my career. In just one ODI game, against the West Indies in Chennai, I didn’t score before the selection, and I wasn’t picked.
You led India in six ODIs. Did you miss leading India in Test cricket?
Everyone wants to lead India. I would have definitely wanted to lead India but that was not my ultimate ambition; it was to win a Test series abroad. My lowest moments were when we were thrashed 0-4 in England and 0-4 in Australia in 2011-12.
You are on DDCA executive committee and you have asked questions to Delhi governments on pollution on Twitter. Was that a reason at all why you have retired?
Absolutely not, and I have not thought about politics and stuff. I’ve questioned and tweeted because being a citizen of this country I’ve the right to question the party that is in power.
When you were offered a seat on the Delhi and District Cricket Association’s executive committee as a government nominee, were you willing to accept it, or was there insistence that you should get into administration?
I got a call from the sports ministry, which wanted to appoint me as a government nominee because they wanted someone of my stature to be there. It that had never happened [an active player being appointed], but it would allow me to try and get things sorted, especially from the players’ point of view. I thought that it was important for me and good for Delhi cricket as I was in the thick of things and knew what the players wanted. So, I thought what better than me taking up those issues and small, small problems to the excretive committee and rectify them. And, hopefully, I can deliver that because I know what young players go through in the DDCA.
But there was some opposition to your appointment within the DDCA as it was pointed out that there was a conflict of interest in your case [as you were still actively playing].
I am sure there will be opposition. Look, there’s nothing wrong in it. So, it’s absolutely fine [for some people] to oppose it. Ultimately, it is up to the sports ministry to decide the conflict of interest. I am open to giving it away as well, because it was not something I was dying for. My job is to get young kids get the facilities they want to become a better cricketer and achieve their dreams.
Do you break things when you are angry?
I have thrown my bat and helmet etc. to take out my frustration when I was young. But with age you learn how to channelise the anger in a better way.
Are you a member of any political party?
Not at all. I haven’t even thought about it.
Are you now going to join any political party?
Absolutely not thought about it. I’m someone who tries to live in the present as much as possible because I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I will sit down and see what options I have. I haven’t thought about politics till now and there is no such inclination towards a certain party and such.
I asked this because recently there was a media report that the BJP might field you for one of Parliament seats from Delhi in next year’s general elections.
Yes, there have been rumours from a very long time, and I don’t know where are these coming from. People keep asking me about this. For me, whoever comes into politics does that to make the country a better place to live and to touch as many lives as possible. All politicians should take their responsibility very seriously as a lot of people’s lives are dependent on them.
You have already touched many lives through your community kitchen initiative and sponsorship of education of 50 kids of martyred CRPF jawans etc. You feel very strongly about soldiers. How did this love for the uniform come about?
It was just that I feel that if there are any selfless people in this country, they are the soldiers. I respect selfless people. They are the actual heroes. That’s why I have this fascination for the uniform.
How did you select those 50 kids?
Paramilitary forces like SSB, CRPF, BSF, and ITBP don’t get as many facilities as the Army, Navy or Air Force. So, we thought we would get into this space and try and help those kids.
Now that you have retired are you going to meet these soldiers?
I would love to meet those 50 children, some of whom come from deep interiors, at least once a year in Delhi. Last time, we made them watch one IPL game of Delhi Daredevils in Delhi. This way I keep connected with them and provide them some happiness.
Tell us something about the Gautam Gambhir Foundation.
The base of the foundation is the children of the martyred soldiers. We have also taken an environment initiative where we ask people to adopt a tree, like their own child, and just don’t plant 50 trees that they can’t take care of. We are getting into schools and asking principals to tell each student to adopt one tree and take care of that as he/she would have his name on it. So, after 12 years at the school, he/she leaves a legacy behind. We have started with Ramjas School in Delhi.
What is the next on agenda of the community kitchen programme, meant for the poor?
We have discontinued the programme as the shopkeepers in the areas where it was being organised had started taking advantage of it. They had stopped bringing their lunch [and were eating from the community kitchen], due to which the needy people weren’t getting the advantage. Now, we are planning to go to schools and provide food to the students of classes IX and X. The Delhi government provides mid-day meal only till class VIII, and often many students drop out after this class. So, we would ensure that they don’t drop out and study at least till class X. We need permission from the government. If we can do it till class XII nothing like it.
Would you like to go into coaching or commentary?
I’ve done a little bit of commentary, only three T20s. It is one option. Coaching could be another option. But as I have mentioned I haven’t even thought about that. Let me sit down and evaluate which will be one place I will enjoy going to. I’m someone who loves being part of action and enjoys it. So, I can get into action by going into coaching or by being a mentor. Commentary doesn’t give you that action.
You apparently once got an offer to do a film. Is it true?
Not at all, never. This is also just a rumour. I am an introvert, I can’t act.
Would you like your daughters Azeen and Anaiza to play some sport?
Azeen has started playing tennis. Her mom wants her to play some sport; she has just started going for tennis classes and she loves it. Hopefully, she takes up some sport. Her mother has made her join three things – tennis, dancing and story-telling. But I am not going to force her to do anything.
What prompted you to completely renovate your house?
It was not me. It was the decision of my mom and my wife because they wanted it. And they are the ones who are designing it as well. They have all the freedom to do what they want and I’m sure they’ll do a good job. I only come here as an ‘expert’, criticise – ‘this is bad, that is bad’ -- and just walk off. That’s my only contribution in this house.