On January 27, the day of the IPL auction, Gautam Gambhir says he will be spending some quality time with his two young children. “Early on in my career, I decided I should never worry about selection and I am not going to change it this time either. Controlling the controllable is a cliché may be, but it’s something that has worked for me. Why would I instead sit and worry unnecessarily?”
The question about fretting arises as Gambhir hasn’t been retained by Kolkata KnightRiders for whom he won two IPL titles as a captain. The move came as a shock to many: With 4,132 runs, Gambhir is the fourth-highest run-scorer in IPL history, and in 123 games as captain, he has the fourth-best win percentage (57.31) among those who have led in more than 50 games. And apart from MS Dhoni, he is the only one who has led in more than 100. Last year, he was the second-highest IPL scorer after David Warner (498 runs @ 41.5 at a strike rate of 128.2).
Perhaps, it was due to the purse available for the auction as KKR have freed up their financial capital by retaining just Andre Russell and Sunil Narine.
KKR might use the Right-to-Match clause to get Gambhir in the auction, but it won’t be an open-and-shut affair. KKR might have to shell out a lot of cash to get other players, and might not have enough to get him. Gambhir says he understands the process, and believes he just has to wait.
Waiting is something Gambhir has done all his life: Waiting for the Delhi junior selectors to pick him for age-group tournaments. They didn’t. Waiting for national selectors to pick him after they dropped him from all teams – Tests, ODIs, and T20s, by January 2013. They didn’t. (He got a couple more opportunities in Tests – two Tests in 2014, and two in 2016 but things didn’t go his way). Now, after a year when he was the second-highest scorer in the IPL , he is waiting to be picked up by a franchise in the auction.
He hasn’t slouched around though. Unlike a few other India internationals, Gambhir has played every Ranji Trophy match this season, and was one of the main factors behind Delhi reaching the final. Though his interests have widened outside the playing arena – he runs a charity organisation for street kids, and personally oversees each of its activities, Gambhir says his main focus still remains cricket. And runs, in particular.
That begs the question—is Gambhir ready to play just as a batsman in an IPL team? Is he ready not to be the captain? “It was an honour to be KKR’s captain. And if any franchise thinks I am good enough to lead, it would be an honour, and it’s a job and responsibility I would do with utmost honesty and sincerity.”
“If I am just picked as a batsman, I would give more than 100 per cent to scoring runs. That’s what I do when I play for Delhi – I am not the captain there. I have always maintained that a team is picked, and then a captain. I have never seen myself as an automatic choice for captain. Even when playing for India, I have never ever pushed any time to be the captain. When I started playing cricket, captaincy was not even in the mind. All I wanted was to score runs. Yes, I had a great time leading a bunch of very talented players for KKR, but that doesn’t mean that I want only to be captain. If I am selected as a batsman, I would focus all my energy to get runs.”
Gambhir recalls a phase in IPL 2014, his first year as captain, when runs dried up. “I had three ducks, and one run – just one run in four games in the UAE, and we came to India. Imagine, I am the captain, and I have contributed just one run.” He flies down, and heads straight to a Delhi hospital to see his newborn daughter. “My wife was tired and happy, my daughter had just been born, and I decided to travel to Ranchi next day. I got a fifty, then runs started flooding in, and we went on to win the tournament that year. You never know, what can happen in life.” “If I don’t think I am good enough to play at this level, and if I am not contributing for the team, I won’t stay. I am not one to hang around just for some past glory. I know I can contribute now, and that’s why I am continuing.”
Why does he keep playing, when an India recall seems unlikely? “I want to achieve a lot more in cricket. I know I can contribute. I just love being in a competitive environment of a team game, and I want to continue doing it – in Ranji Trophy, in IPL.”
What about India? “I haven’t thought about it in a conscious way as I stopped myself from thinking about selection many years back. All I know is I should continue to score runs in whatever format I am playing. If it isn’t India, then it’s for Delhi or an IPL franchise. If it wasn’t there in me, I would have quit.”
Others who missed the retention bus:
Chris Gayle: This was coming. Just 200 runs from 9 matches at an average of 22.22 last IPL, and at 38, perhaps the age factor too came in. Not that he would be a non-entity this auction as he is fresh from creating record sixes (18) in an match in BPL last month.
Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh: Both were big contributors in the past for Mumbai Indians but haven’t been retained by the franchise who have opted for Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, and Hardik Pandya. Malinga’s age and waning skills perhaps tilted the case against him, and Harbhajan perhaps lost out because they could only three players. And he has not been playing any competitive cricket for a while when the decision was made. He is a very likely RTM (Right to Match) candidate.
Shikhar Dhawan: A curious omission as Sunrisers Hyderabad didn’t use up their full quota of retentions. It was not only his past in IPL – 2271 from 75 games, but he was in peak form across all formats when the decision was made. Again, he could be a likely RTM candidate.
R Ashwin: Chennai Super Kings chose to retain Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja, apart from MS Dhoni, and Ashwin had to miss out. Dhoni has already publically said recently that they would try to get Ashwin through RTM, though CSK can’t exercise it on him as their retained players are all capped Indians.
Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard: Perhaps it was because Bravo missed out last year due to injury but he has been playing, and doing rather well in the Big Bash League. His utility as an allrounder in Indian conditions with his slower ones and cutters has proved invaluable in the past. Pollard, who is Bravo’s team-mate in BBL, and Mumbai Indian’s talisman perhaps missed out because they were more desperate to hold on to Bumrah and Pandya.