EXCLUSIVE: Pakistan was never a threat, real test will be against South Africa: Gambhir


New Delhi: Like a helpless creature trapped in between eleven hungry tigers striving for blood, poor Hasan Ali had nowhere to go. Barely 90 seconds into the crease, he succumbed to Umesh Yadav and so did Pakistan. An on-field injury meant Wahab Riaz would not bat and hence the ninth wicket became Pakistan’s last. Majority of the 24,156 that turned up in Edgbaston were elated in abundance of joy.


Some 6,800 kilometers away in New Delhi, a person not alien to these high voltage encounters had no time to celebrate India’s resounding win. For he had to quickly put on the microphone, stand in front of the camera to give an ‘expert’s view’ on Sunday’s big-ticket match. That was pretty much the order of the day for Gautam Gambhir.


A barrage of questions similar to head-high bouncers and well directed googlies from 11 in the morning had left the stylish left-hander scathed. Wearing a black t-shirt and faded blue jeans, Gambhir looked a tired figure after all the lights, camera, action. Frequent rain stoppages meant he had to do overtime. Needless to say at that very moment the sight of me walking up to him for a chat did not particularly excite Gambhir. But he was kind enough, after a quick reaction on India’s Champions Trophy chances, Gambhir was ready to provide a window to his cricketing career. The spark in the eyes was back. For the next 15 minutes, the two-time world cup winner then spoke about the Indian team, Kolhi’s captaincy, the joy of representing Kolkata Knight Riders and his aim of scoring heaps of runs without worrying about selection. 


Q. After a resounding victory against Pakistan, do you think India is now front runner to lift the Champions Trophy?


Gambhir: Well obviously India are the front runners, they have gone in as the defending champions in the tournament. However, I never believed Pakistan was a threat, even if India had played 70% to their potential they would have beaten them easily. The challenge will be against South Africa, because that is going to be a tough game. India will probably beat Sri Lanka as well but the South Africa match is going to be a big one.


Q. This was Virat Kohli’s first outing as India captain in an ICC tournament, how do you rate his captaincy so far?


Gambhir: It’s too early to say… He has done a good job irrespective of the tournament. One thing I would look forward to is his consistency. Hopefully he can continue the good work. As I said it’s not right to judge a captain on the basis of one particular game and it’s never about a big tournament, every time you go out to play for India it becomes a big occasion. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an ICC event or a bilateral series, as captain you walk out there to win every game.


Q. Kohli mentioned that Ashiwn was not picked because the Pakistan batting line up was dominated by right handers. Do you think he would find a place in the next game against Sri Lanka or India would not change the winning combination?


Gambhir: Everything depends on the conditions. I think it was a good decision (not to include Ashwin)… Jadeja is always a blessing for any captain, who takes the ball away from the right hander... I don’t think there will be any changes because the conditions are going to be similar in Oval. Hardik Pandya has done a pretty good job as a fifth bowler and as a middle order batsman, so you can’t leave him out. With the bounce available in Oval you end up picking one spinner. If needed you always have the likes of Rohit Sharma, Kedar Jadhav, not to forget Yuvraj Singh, who can easily give you 5-6 overs if the conditions are favourable. Personally, I think Ashwin has to wait.


Q. The likes of Yuvraj have reclaimed their spots; youngsters like Pandya have grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Is the Indian team now a complete package with perfect mix of youth and experience?


Gambhir: (laughs…) When we do well, everyone starts speaking highly about us and it completely changes when the result goes against us. There has to be balance… Yuvraj Singh always had it in him; the important thing is he has started off really well. When you begin well in a tournament like Champions Trophy, you carry that confidence deep. Especially once you reach the age of 34-35, there will be that extra pressure, youngsters would push for your spot and that’s with every quality side. People like Yuvraj and Dhoni will always have to be on their toes to fend off competition from the younger lot.  


Q. Seeing the likes of Yuvraj back in the mix don’t you feel you also deserve another opportunity?


Gambhir: Well I don’t ponder about things which are not in my hands. My job is to score runs and nothing else.


Q. But you said that you never expected a call up when the Champions Trophy squad was announced?


Gambhir: Because I don’t play for selection… Wherever I play, for whichever team, my goal is to do well. I don’t expect selection; ultimately if it has to happen it will happen naturally and I believe as cricketers everyone else should do the same.    


Q Shifting focus to IPL, you have again had a terrific season with the Kolkata Knight Riders, have led them to two IPL titles in seven seasons. In the next season though, all franchises will form a fresh team. So do you think KKR will again bid for you?


Gambhir: Honestly, it doesn’t matter… Ultimately you have to perform for whichever team you are playing for. It really has been a pleasure playing for KKR but as a professional cricketer I am ready to play for any team… Would not mind at all if KKR doesn’t pick me in the next auction.

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