Gautam Gambhir has always been a straight-talker. Much like his performances on the field, he exudes confidence off it and speaks his mind, unfiltered. In this freewheeling interview with News 18 India Sports Editor Vimal Kumar, Gambhir speaks on a variety of themes like retirement, his achievements with the Indian team, memories of donning the jersey and the current setup of the Indian team.
VK: Gautam Gambhir has announced his retirement from international cricket and right now we are being joined by him. Gautam, I would like to start this interview with a great quote from Simon Barnes — “That's how great athletes think, they always know there will be a last dragon. They never recognise it when they meet. They just say good morning and carry on.” This is written in context of how an athlete reacts to their decline or questions related to their retirement. Was it difficult for you to recognise the last dragon?
GG: Yes it was a tough decision because it is a thing which you have done for the last 25 years. Very difficult for you to let go of something. But I have always maintained one thing, that till the time I have hoped and had a belief that I can play for India, I will keep playing and I will keep scoring runs. The day you feel that your runs can't take you forward, your runs can't take you to go on playing for India, I think it was time to go. A lot of people have asked me this question in the last 2-3 days since I have announced my retirement. I can continue playing IPL. But IPL again was always a platform for me using which I can go onto play for India. Again it was not the only platform, it was the platform after first-class cricket, if I do well in first-class cricket and then do well in IPL, then it will help me go onto play for India. IPL was never a platform where I can make money, it was always the platform where I can go onto play for India. If it can't happen anymore, it is time to go.
VK: In hindsight do you think your timing of announcing your retirement is right or was it little delayed?
GG: Look I played my last Test match in 2016. And I still believed when I was dropped after the two Test matches that I could make a comeback with so many foreign tours coming. And I thought if I can keep scoring runs, I had a good season last to last season. I scored 680 runs, we (Delhi) played the (Ranji Trophy) final. So I always had the belief that I could make a comeback. But then when I didn't get picked for the foreign tours, I thought it was time for me to go because I thought if so my runs are going to take me forward and I wasn't someone who would thought of getting 20,000 runs, just kept going for the heck of going. If I can't go on to play for India, there was always someone who was waiting in the wings. A young kid who can go onto score for the country and I think I had no right to stop his progress.
VK: Are you completely satisfied with your career or do you think you underachieved with the amount of potential you had?
GG: Look, there always be a time when you would think you could do more. And that happens with everyone. Even if I'd played 100 Test matches I could have thought, you know, I could have played 130-140. If I'd played 130, I could have said I have played 150. So that thought will always be there and it is there with everyone. But again if I look back at my career, how many people get that opportunity to be part of two World Cup-winning squads. Or how many people get the opportunity to be part of winning the CB series in Australia. Or winning a series against New Zealand in New Zealand. Or being ICC Test player for the Year. Probably not many people. I think I have played only one 50-over World Cup and I have been part of that World Cup-winning team. The 2007 T20 World Cup was the first World Cup of that sort and I ended up winning that as well. So if you look at my career purely from run's point of view or the matches point of view, yes I would be disappointed but it was never my ultimate aim. I never dreamt of scoring 10,000 runs. My ultimate aim was to win the World Cup. And to be part of the Test series wins overseas. And I have been part of both.
VK: You come from a very privileged background in terms of money and all the luxury. So was it difficult for you to put in all the hard work and effort?
GG: It's a very good question. When I was growing up I had to beat perception. In a country like India, it takes a whole life to beat perceptions. People had this perception about me that I come from a background that it doesn't matter to me. Probably it mattered more to me than anything else because I had to beat my own demons, I had to beat my own insecurities. Probably I cared for it much more than I should have. And it hurt me and would have hurt any other person as well. That's the reason I couldn't enjoy it, couldn't laugh or couldn't smile at the cricket field because I thought I had to beat this perception of the people
That, yes, it does matter a lot to me. So, I thought I have to battle it out every inch of my cricketing career and there's nothing wrong to it. And when I look back I feel very satisfied because I have beaten my demons. I was able to beat the perception as well. Not many people have done that.
VK: So what is difficult? Most of the time we celebrate especially in the last 10 years we have seen so many cricketers coming from the small town, from a very humble background. So for whom is it more difficult? Making it big coming from a humble background or someone like you who came from a privileged background and made it big?
GG: Look both. Because in a profession like cricket. I think it is your performance that it is your performance that takes you forward. It doesn't matter what background you come from. Whether you come from a humble background or any influential background. It really doesn't matter. Because ultimately you got to keep scoring runs, you got to keep performing if you have to go forward. But yes if you are not performing well, people start thinking, ‘Oh, if he doesn't get picked, nothing changes in his life.’ But people just forget that I have put in a lot of effort in what I have achieved. A lot of hard work has gone behind the scenes in whatever I did in my career. I wasn't someone who would just lie down and relax a bit. Nothing has come easy to me, I have to fight for every inch. So it had nothing to do with the kind of background I come from. Someone who comes from a humble background has to work hard to achieve something in their careers and it is exactly the same thing with someone coming from a privileged background. Because sports is such a great leveller. Sports doesn't know whatever background you come from. Ultimately, it is a contest between a bat and a ball. Ball doesn't know about your background, ball doesn't know about your family history, which state or culture you come from. That's why I felt, everyone irrespective of whichever background they come from, I think they should never be judged by their background. They should only be judged by their performances. It doesn't mean that someone from the influential background can't be better than someone who came from a humble background. And vice-versa. This is what cricket shows. That you have to be in the middle and fight for every run because if you don't perform someone else is always there to replace you.
VK: But did your background help you, you're a very confident individual and in the Indian dressing room where there is a very big brotherly culture, lots of young players look up to senior players and are very shy of expressing themselves. Was that the case or off the field you always treated yourself as equals?
GG: No, I feel I was never a very confident bully kind of a boy. I think probably I was a very introverted guy, into his shell. Even now I feel I'm into a shell and I feel that people feel that because I come from a wealthy background, I'm going to be aggressive but that's not the case. It's my insecurities that make me aggressive and there's no regret about it because I had to fight for every inch of whatever I've achieved in my cricketing career. I've missed so many World Cups, I've lost count of how many times I've been dropped. I had to struggle for everything — that has nothing to do with where I come from. I feel that I was never a bully, I was never so confident that I would go in the dressing room and start controlling things. I probably went into dressing room thinking do I deserve to be there. It took me a long time to start believing I belong in that dressing room. That's the reason I had to keep performing and working hard to get better everyday.
VK: Coming back to your cricketing career — the most important thing is 2007 World T20 final against Pakistan, a great innings and then 2011 50-over World Cup final and a lot of great Test innings. How do you look back at your career, especially those big moments?
GG: They're satisfying because if you see a lot people in this country, lot of people who've done unbelievable things for this country, they've never been part of the World Cup-winning team. I'm sure if you asked them deep down, about their ultimate dream, none of the players would say their ultimate dream was to score 10,000 runs. Every cricketer and every kid who picks up a bat, wants to win a World Cup for the country. I've been very fortunate that to have been a part of two, there are people who've scored 15,000 runs, 20,000 runs but they've never won the World Cup, they've never had that medal. I think that medal means everything to people who've been part of those World Cup-winning teams.
VK: But missing a century in the World Cup final, a match-winning hundred like Clive Lloyd, Aravinda de Silva or Ricky Pointing, very few people have done that.
GG: Look, 97 is also a match-winning knock and if someone had told me one night before that I'd be part of the World Cup-winning team and getting 97, what’s better than that. I think 100 is just a milestone and again that is the problem with a country like India that 100 is a huge achievement and 97 is not, and the difference is only three runs. We are so obsessed with milestones, if it's not a 100 then it's a failure, if it's not a 5-wicket haul, then it's a failure. Who's made this — I think it’s the ex-cricketers, cricket fraternity. Who has made this word called a finisher? Anyone can be a finisher. Who's made this thing that if you score a 100 you're successful if you don't then you're not? I've always thought differently. I think you're successful, if your runs have helped the team win, whether it’s 50, 40 or 30. Somewhere long back I'd said that in a team sport only those runs should be counted in which a team has won and only those runs should go to your account. The runs that you've scored but your team hasn't won should not be counted. People say what does he talk and I completely believe in this that only those runs should matter and go into your record.
VK: That's a very radical thought.
GG: I know it is but that's what a team sport is. That's how team sport is meant to be played. I score a hundred and the team loses. For me, that century has gone to the dustbin. Even if I score 20, 30 or a 40 and we ended up winning that will give me much more satisfaction. So, I think 97 is always better than a zero.
VK: But do you sometimes wonder that whenever people talk about 2011 World Cup. Almost often your innings gets overshadowed by MSD's last-ball six.
GG: Look, in a country like India, it will always be overshadowed by the captain because we end up giving so much of credit to the captain. Whether it is Sourav Ganguly or MS Dhoni or Virat Kohli now. So I think this nation is obsessed with captains. This country is obsessed with Virat's team, MS's team. No, it is the Indian team. It is no individual's team. I think a captain is as good as his team and why give all the credit to the captain. Captain needs 10 more people to execute his plans. And good people to execute his plans. If the batsmen don't score and the bowlers don't take the wickets, what would a captain do? Can he bowl, can he field or can he bat at all positions. So why give all the credit to the captain. It is probably very media-created, ex-cricketers created as well. And I never believed in that. I believed that when you win, everyone wins. Not only the captain. When you lose, everyone loses. Not only the captain. You shouldn't criticise the captain and you shouldn't end up praising the captain.
VK: When you expect things like these, people will say ‘look how Gambhir is, he never got along with MSD.’
GG: I have just spoken about Sourav Ganguly and Virat Kohli as well. I have a decent relationship with all of them. It is just my personal opinion that a captain should not be given all the credit. Shouldn't be criticised for everything. Both ways. I am not saying credit but criticism as well. If you lose, it is not only the captain that will make you lose. It is the XI people on the park that make you lose. So it goes both ways. But people will take it only on one term.
VK: So what kind of rapport do you have with MS?
GG: Very good! We are friends and we discuss when we meet. Obviously, when we have met during the IPL.
VK: But have you ever discussed that in the media or that ‘there is something going on’.
GG: We both know these are rumours that are just media created and I am sure, I am retired. When he will retire, when he will be sitting in his room, he would be thinking that best moments of his life came with some of us. He had the time of his life in our company because those are the best achievements of his and my career. So when that is the case, there can never be any rift. There will be differences of opinions and that is the case everywhere. That will get the best opinions. But when you don't have a difference of opinion that means you have only one person controlling, you don't want the team go that way. You want team to go that way where there are difference of views. Then you come to the conclusion that this is where the team must go. So there have been difference of opinion but there have been mutual respect as well. I do respect him a lot and I will always respect him for what he has done for the Indian cricket. Not only as a leader but as a player as well. His records speak for him. He has got 10,000 runs. He has led India for a very long time. So there will always be mutual respect. And mutual respect is very important because it's the respect you show someone behind the back. It shows how much respect you have especially when you are retired. I have said there will always be mutual respect and I will always stand behind him. People will criticise him for certain things. And no I believe he doesn't deserve to be criticised and I will be the first one to back him to the hilt. And that will stay with me forever.
VK: So among all the captains you have played under, from Sourav to Kumble. Where do you rate MSD?
GG: Look, his record his phenomenal. But then he had a phenomenal team as well. You don't need to captain people like Sachin (Tendulkar, Sourav and Rahul (Dravid), VVS Laxman or Harbhajan Singh. They are just leaders in their own way. So he had a phenomenal team as well. And I am not taking anything away from him. He was very fortunate, I am sure he will say it one day himself. It is fortunate to have team where he had the likes of Harbhajan and Zaheer Khan. Probably the greatest of them all. And I believe there are no greats there are only soldiers. He was very fortunate but yes he led them in his own way. He was very calm, didn't show a lot of emotions which was again a massive plus for him. We got thrashed in England, he didn't show a lot of emotions. We got thrashed in Australia, he was still very calm. So probably that was his biggest strength as well but if you ask me on leadership qualities under a lot of captains. The most unfortunate thing that happened was that Anil Kumble couldn't lead India for a very long time. Had he captained the Indian team, Indian cricket would have been a platform where it was never been.
VK: So in that context, don't you find it really weird, the way Kumble was treated as a coach?
GG: Probably the worst thing BCCI could have done. It was the biggest mistake, BCCI would have made and probably it was the BCCI at its weakest ever the way they treated Anil Kumble. Batsmen will score 20,000-30,000 runs but there will never be a match winner like Anil Kumble. So the way they treated Kumble, such a self-less and an honest man shows the kind of weakness BCCI had. And it was the darkest phase for BCCI. I think the people in power should take responsibility for it.
VK: It is an open secret that Virat didn't want Anil Kumble as coach, he wanted Ravi Shastri. Do you think this is such a thing that fans will always hold while judging Virat's captaincy?
GG: I don't know, it is up to the BCCI to decide. I don't know how people will judge him. People will judge him by the performance of the team. When you are the leader of the side, it is not about your own runs. It is what the team is doing at the field. And that is what I have believed in. When you are not a leader, your runs are important to you. But when you become a leader, your runs are not important to you but the results are important to you as well. So I don't know how people would have judged him but I think the Indian cricket would have benefited with someone like an Anil Kumble.
VK: Don't you think this Australia series is going to be the ultimate test for him?
GG: Any overseas Test series is important for any Indian cricketer not only Virat Kohli. I am sure every Indian cricketer will try and do well when they go overseas. That is where the real challenge is. You want to be part of history as well. These guys will be motivated enough. These guys will not get that opportunity in future. You never know when you are going to be part of the squad to tour Australia. You got that opportunity, try and make history.
VK: So the kind of coach he has, do you think...Because even if India were losing in South Africa or England, the coach was making claims that this is the best Indian side in last 15 years.
GG: I am sure people who haven't won anything give these kinds of statements as well. I don't know what Ravi Shastri has achieved in his career apart from winning that World Series in Australia. I don't think he was part of any series wins overseas. When you haven't won anything yourself, you end up giving these kinds of statements, and I am sure people wouldn't have taken it seriously. I am sure he wouldn't have seen that much of cricket, had he see enough cricket, he wouldn't have given that kind of statements because that was childish. Even if you had won 4-1, you don't say this is the best Indian team touring abroad. You have to be humble and got to say, ‘Okay, we are going to take this team head on’, but you don't say this is the best team ever to tour abroad. This is childish. I don't think people would have taken that seriously. I don't know about people, but I haven't taken it seriously. That was an immature statement.
VK: Do you think Virat gets the benefit of being an exceptional batsman. His captaincy doesn't come under the scrutiny.
GG: Look, that is where the selectors need to decide. Because ultimately when you are captaining, you have to win. That is what your job is. If you don't win, you are not good. It is a performance sport. If team is not winning under your captaincy, there is something wrong with your leadership. Scoring runs doesn't make you a good leader. A good leader is someone who will win everywhere. So the greatest of batsman has never been the greatest of leaders. A greatest of leader can never be the greatest of batsman as well. But ultimately when you are a leader, you've got to win.
VK: You had a great association with KKR, you won two trophies as well. A lot of people are speculating that you might join them as a coaching staff.
GG: I haven't even spoken to them.
VK: Is that a possibility?
GG: I haven't even thought about it. I don't know. I have never done it ever in my life. I have never done anything apart from playing.
VK: A lot of speculations about you that maybe some thing other than cricket. Politics?
GG: Not at all, haven't thought about it either. I don't know where these rumours are coming from, I haven't even thought about that getting into something like this because it is a different world and a field.
VK: But it is speculated that you are going to get a ticket from BJP?
GG: I haven't spoken to anyone, I don't know where are these speculations coming from.
VK: So you rule out or you don't rule out?
GG: I don't rule out anything, or say yes to anything because I haven't thought about it. I have never done anything in my life apart from playing cricket and I don't even know what I am good at apart from playing cricket that's why I said that I don't rule out anything. Had I done something else, I would have said that this or that interests me. 25 years of life, I have only played. I don't know what happens in the future, whatever happens it would have my full commitment.