The current crop of Indian players has been absolutely brilliant as a collaborative unit and has always backed up each other in the most phenomenal ways possible. However, before the team evolved into such a perfectly dovetailed family, India always relied on flashes of instinctive brilliance from individuals in winning big matches.
Gautam Gambhir is one such cricketer who has helped India in sealing crucial matches right from the jaws of defeat and ushered them to glorious victories. May it be with the bat or may it be with his leadership flair at times, the Delhi opener has always been a scintillating moniker in the echelons of Indian cricket.
We will look at five instances where Gambhir crafted a match-defining innings to seal sizeable glory for India in ambitious contentions.
- Indian versus Sri Lanka, World Cup final, 2011
With Mahela Jayawardene smashing a blistering ton to put a spanner in India’s World Cup-winning hopes, India was left with a mountain to climb, chasing 274 under bowling-friendly conditions. To cap it off, they lost Sehwag in the opening over and also a review. Gambhir walked into the middle to partner with the Master Blaster, with the nation stunned. The first delivery faced by the southpaw was cleverly flicked down the leg side to secure the first boundary of the innings. This was the herald to what would be one of the most humdinger innings played in the history of Indian cricket.
Sachin did get off to a good start with a couple of vintage Tendulkar-ish shots but soon fell prey to an out-swinger from Malinga. Next up was young Kohli and Gambhir’s shoulders were full, not only to take out the pressure of the situation but also to play a cicerone to the young lad in the middle.
Finally, after some early trading of hefty blows on the body and helmet and all over the silhouette of the batsman on the hawk-eye, Gambhir eased the pressure off himself, smashing Perera on the leg-side with some brilliant use of his feet. His next victim was Nuwan Kulasekara as he hammered him down on the off-side with an emphatic cover drive. This was the beginning of Sri Lanka’s end.
As time elapsed, Gambhir and Kohli started stitching a crucial stand to steer India away from danger, however, this is when Dilshan pulled a ripper off the air from his own bowling. Kohli trying to hammer it down the same trajectory ended up hitting straight into the out-stretched arm of Dilshan and India once again felt the heat at 114/3. The skipper came in to bat ahead of a set Yuvraj, a decision that would change the course of Indian history forever.
Once again after some slow but steady initial repairs by this partnership, Gambhir charged Malinga, flipping a yorker into a boundary. The Delhi opener was in no mood to relent as he carried on with his carnage, this time targeting Dilshan. With a few hefty blows, that started draining the life of Sri Lankan bowling, Gambhir finally did come a cropper just ahead of his century. Trying to dance down the pitch in the process of hewing away Perera for his century, he missed the ball completely and it went on to rattle the timbre, once again intensifying the frowns on the Indian faces. Gambhir departed for 97, however, that was the last wicket, Sri Lanka could register as Yuvraj and MS played out an unbeaten stand of 54 runs to seal India’s second world cup after an interminable wait for 28 years.
- India versus Pakistan, 2007 T-20 World Cup, 2007
The same batting line up that wreaked havoc across the entire fray until the finale, skittled out like pins in front of some brute pace and swing. With an emergency swap of Virender Sehwag with Yusuf Pathan as the former suffered an injury just ahead of the game, India got their backs pinned to the wall. The trio of Mohammad Asif, Sohail Tanvir and Umar Gul rocked the Indian batting line up time and time again.
Despite a stormy start to the innings by Yusuf Pathan, India was shortly wobbling, courtesy of some scorching heat from Umar Gul. With Uthappa, Yuvi, Pathan and Dhoni silenced for cheap, Gambhir peppered the leg side with a couple of maximums and lashed out some classic cover drives, as the sweet sound of the cherry kissing the willow filled the stands.
The beauty of Gambhir’s prancing down the track against the spinners showcased how wonderful of a batsman he was. Not really looking for some pyrotechnics, he concentrated on technical brilliance and that is exactly what left Pakistan searching for an answer to put an end to him.
Constructing a meaty 75 off only 54 deliveries that comprised eight 4’s and two 6’s, he finally holed out to Mohammad Asif in a stellar delivery from Umar Gul. India managed to tot up 157 for 5.
Pakistan was dealt an early blow as they found themselves clamouring and crawling in the end, had it not ben for individual brilliance from Misbah, who finally attempting to do something cheeky, ended up gifting a simple catch to Sreesanth, that witnessed India lifting the maiden T-20 World Cup.
- India versus Sri Lanka, 4th ODI, 2009
In a high-octane encounter, Sri Lanka batted first in the Mecca of Indian cricket, Eden gardens and totted up a substantial 315 for 6. Upul Tharanga and Kumara Sangakkara led the Islander’s charge.
Brief cameos from Perera, Jayawardene, Kandamby and Samaraweera propelled Sri Lanka’s score beyond the 300-run mark as they settled for a decent 315.
India was jolted by a rude awakening as Sehwag and Tendulkar were both rattled early by Lakmal and India wobbled at 23 for 2, chasing a mammoth total. This is when Gambhir and Kohli took up the onus of steering India to glory.
The duo stitched together a 224-run partnership as they hew away at the bowlers mercilessly. Gambhir’s exquisite stroke-play laced with his resilience against shorter deliveries helped India script a remarkable victory.
Smashing an unbeaten 150 from 139 deliveries, Gambhir clobbered 14 boundaries and in order to keep the scoreboard ticking consistently, he kept on rotating the strikes every alternate delivery. India managed to rack up the total with 9 balls to spare.
- India versus New Zealand, 3rd ODI, 2010
Indian bowling and fielding made quick work of the Kiwis as the two sides locked horns in the third ODI of the series at Vadodara. With combined efforts from bowlers and fielders, India confined the Black Caps to a paltry 224 for 9 from their limited quota of 50 overs.
Vijay and Gambhir got off to a flyer as the southpaw spearheaded the Indian battery. After completing the century partnership, Vijay was found short of the crease when Daniel Vettori managed to knock off the timber.
This did not dent India’s impeccable winning ambitions in any way as Kohli started exactly from where Vijay left. The lion’s share of the work was covered by Gambhir though, as he sprayed the bowlers in all the nooks and crannies of the world with some exotic strikes. He stayed unbeaten at 126 from 117 deliveries that featured 16 boundaries.
- India versus Australia, 10th ODI, 2008
This is the only match in the list, where despite Gambhir’s explosives, India failed to cross the winning line. Australia smashed a blistering 317 for 7 with Ricky Ponting chronicling another fabulous century.
India was off to a shaky start as Sehwag, Tendulkar, Sharma and Yuvraj were removed early by the Australian bowlers. With Indian teetering on the brink of a total collapse, Gambhir started weaving a few Indian dreams with a delectable fight back alongside Dhoni.
After considerable resistance formed by the dup, Dhoni was finally beaten by Lee’s crude pace. Once again taking Utahppa by his side, Gambhir started painting a faint picture of resurgence and the duo did manage to take India to a fighting stance before Gambhir was finally stumped by Gilchrist in an absolute beauty bowled by Hogg. He scored a decorated 113 from 119 runs, with India’s last resistance fizzling away at 299.