In 2007, when he was first dropped from the Indian team that played in the ICC World Cup, Gambhir had got his first serious jolt. Of that dark time, he once said in an interview, “When I got dropped for the World Cup, there were times I didn’t want to play anymore. I didn’t want to practise. I couldn’t motivate myself.” But motivate himself he did.
Those close to him say he was thinking about nothing but cricket, discussing his flaws, working on them and when that slender sliver of opportunity came his way in the form of the tour to Bangladesh later that year, he grabbed it with both hands. A century there and he was on his way to Ireland. Another good score there earned him a place in the 2007 squad for the World Twenty20 in South Africa. It was the first Twenty20 World Championship and no one knew what to make of it.
Gambhir saw this as his chance. He scored 227 runs to be the top-scorer of the tournament, including a match-winning 75 in 54 balls in the final against Pakistan. India won the title and Gambhir was a match winner.
The roll continued for the next few years. In 2010, he led India to a 5-0 win over New Zealand in a one-day series that included a personal best of 150 in the fourth match.
Then came the 2011 World Cup. In the final against Sri Lanka, India had lost an early wicket and MS Dhoni sent Gambhir in. He scored 97 in 122 balls. His partnerships with Virat Kohli and Dhoni won India the match.
In 2012, Gambhir was made vice-captain of the national squad for the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka. His consistent performance with the bat in the six ODIs — five against New Zealand and one against West Indies — also got him talked about as a possible captain of the one-day team, in case the selectors decided to reduce the load on Dhoni.
But the run of form was too good to last forever. Gambhir’s scores dropped. His feet were suddenly not moving as well, his edges found slip fielders, he struggled against the swinging ball. But that happened to others too. It was around the time when a cry for new faces began to gain currency, but surely Gambhir had performed too well for too long to even be considered to be replaced. Unfortunately, the unthinkable happened.
Gambhir played his last Test against England on 17 December 2012, his last Twenty20 match was against Pakistan on 28 December 2012 and his last ODI against England on 27 January 2013. In a matter of 40 days, Gautam Gambhir, potential captain of the Indian team, was out of the team in all formats.
Time and age too were not on his side. At 31, when the mantra was ‘young’ and ‘building the team for the 2015 World Cup’, few would have given Gambhir a chance of making a comeback. But, once again he has. Despite three successive ‘zeros’ in the opening stages, he fought his way back with three successive 50s and led from the front to give KKR a second IPL title in three years.