When Gautam Gambhir’s decision to quit the sport finally came through on Tuesday evening, it was no more than yet another news item shoehorned in the sports pages.
No room for glowing appraisals, as there were more important things at hand from Adelaide where India had been gearing up to start their campaign in the Test series against Australia.
Yes, ‘Gauti,’ as he was known among his teammates, had become somewhat of a passe in Indian cricket.
The interest is likely to centre on his prospective foray into politics rather than the footprint that the angry young man of Indian cricket had left in the game — so what if he was a vital cog in the wheel for the team in all formats from 2007 and 2012 and played a key role in the two World Cup triumphs? May be, he deserved than this.
There is no shortage of common wisdom about ‘timing’ of one’s retirement well — so that once a performer of the highest order can guard himself from getting relegated as an also-ran.
However, the call is not often that easy to make when one is still in his early thirties, the form may be a bit scratchy but the self belief of having enough left in the tank still there.
This was certainly the case with Gambhir, who played his last One-day International way back in 2013 and recalled to play his last Test in 2016 — albeit somewhat fortuitously. All along the years of wilderness, he had been a regular in the domestic scene for Delhi, had a stint with the current Australian coach Justin Langer to work on his game, scored runs with aplomb in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and grew into an undisputed leader for Kolkata Knight Riders after stepping into the shoes of the iconic captain Sourav Ganguly.
It’s a matter of conjecture if his isolation had more to do than just on-field performance — but fact remains that the ICC Test Batsman of the Year for 2009 did not receive an opportunity to sign off on his own terms. No prizes for guessing that it will next be the turn of Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh — with which four of India’s finest performers since the ‘Fab Five’ will have completed a cycle. Zaheer Khan had timed his exit marginally better in 2015 and then rounding it up with a IPL next season.
There will be polarised opinions on whether the formidable quartet had been right to pursue their dreams of comebacks — with both Yuvraj and Harbhajan clawing back into the national team on odd occasions. The stakes are much higher in the game today when a ‘retired’ tag can immediately put you out of reckoning in the cold, pragmatic world of the IPL franchises, but it will be myopic to think that they had been pushing their careers only for the moolah.
Yuvraj, for one, has gone on record saying that he would wait till the 2019 World Cup before taking a call on his career. Let cricketing logic do it’s job in selection issues, but the Indian board should be a little more proactive in planning the send-off of this golden generation!