On a clear, winter’s day in Mumbai in 2004, a short young man walked up to the wicket to take on the Australians.
A left-hander with an open stance, Gautam Gambhir carried a good reputation as an attacking opening batsman who was prolific in all types of cricket.
He had already earned his one-day cap more than a year ago. But this was the real thing, the test of his skills at the highest level.
Sadly, it was a poor start as Gambhir only managed scores of three and one though India went on to win by a narrow margin of 13 runs.
But India persisted with him when South Africa came for a tour immediately after the Australians.
After South Africa put up a massive score of 510 for 9 in the first Test at Kanpur, India took up the challenge and scored 466. But what stood out was the opening partnership between Virendra Sehwag and Gambhir. Sehwag made 164 and Gambhir 96 and they put on 218 for the first wicket.
It marked the beginning of a long and fruitful opening partnership which served India for many years.
Being left-handed, Gambhir’s fluent strokes based on timing were in direct contrast to right-handed Sehwag’s hard-hitting. But the good thing for India was that they were both fast-scoring and this helped the team gain quick advantage, particularly at home.
The left-right combination also gave the opposition something to think about. The combination scored 4,412 runs in 87 innings together from 2004 to 2012, one of the most prolific partnerships in world cricket.
Gambhir’s purple patch came in the late 2000s, when his batting reached the pinnacle of his career. In the period between 2008 and 2010, Gambhir hit a half-century in a record 11 consecutive Tests, equalling the great Sir Vivian Richards.
Gambhir also scored five consecutive centuries in that period, becoming joint second highest in that category.
His crowning glory came in Napier against New Zealand. India needed to draw the Test to win the series and unexpectedly Gambhir showed great patience and buckled down for 643 minutes to etch out 137 runs to allow India to mark a rare feat.
It probably was his greatest achievement in the highest form of the game. He also played two crucial knocks – in the 2007 T20 World Cup and the 2011 World Cup, both of which were won by India.
In the 2010’s, things began to get a bit awry. His form started waning a bit as bowlers around the world found out technical glitches in his play.
The calm Gambhir now began to jump around the crease like a cat on a hot tin roof as bowlers peppered him with the short stuff. His impatience showed as he began bad mouthing bowlers but it proved to be of no avail.
He had an extremely poor tour of England after that and by 2016 his career seemed to be over.
His form dipped in the Indian Premier League too and the time had come. At 37, with India having a surfeit of opening batsmen, Gambhir has done the wisest thing a player should do.
His timing is gone and the body is protesting. Thankfully, Gambhir has left the stage when could walk out rather than being pushed out.
He will always be remembered as a top-class opener for India.
#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same.