New Delhi: In part two of his interview with CNN-IBN's sports editor Gaurav Kalra, Gautam Gambhir opens up on how he still cannot pick his KKR team-mate Sunil Narine, why the IPL cannot be dragged down because of a few individuals, why the India captaincy isn't the end-all of his aspirations and Test cricket being the ultimate format.
Gaurav Kalra: You've talked about leading the team and how it is a team sport. One of the things you did this year was do very well with the bat. You scored six half-centuries and were among the contenders for the orange cap. Did you feel the pressure of the pulse? Of the fact that you were among the highest paid players in the IPL? The fact that you were purchased and given this responsibility? Every time you go out to bat, do you say 'Gautam you have to get runs?'
Gautam Gambhir: I just feel the pressure of performing, not about anything else. Even if I was not being paid what I am I would have still gone out there and felt pressure. I've always heard about people talk about team spirit but according to me team spirit is something like a person who's hitting the ball well has to score for the team. If someone is bowling well and taking wickets, he has to take wickets for the team. There may be a time when you won't be scoring runs, so someone else who hasn't scored runs will have to score. This is what a team sport is all about. A team isn't about wearing the same jersey and walking out onto the field. It's about playing for each other and scoring runs for someone who's not done well. To be honest, I've been very fortunate to have played in the best conditions where the ball was hard, especially in Kolkata where it starts gripping early on. The ball was hard and I had the best time to bat, so maybe I was fortunate to score all those runs.
GK: Did you feel you were getting into the kind of batting form you'd like to see for India? There's no cricket now for a while so that batting form might go to waste in the next few months, but did you feel that you were getting back to that prime batting form that we've seen from Gautam Gambhir in the past?
GG: I was enjoying it. It's all about how you feel at the top, not about how you play. It's how you think, what you are thinking. I was pretty relaxed because I was hitting the ball well. It was about keeping your emotions to yourself and trying to control your instincts. I was thinking well, I was relaxed and that's why I hit the ball well.
GK: I want to ask you two other questions about your leadership. One you touched briefly upon – [Manvinder] Bisla. Someone made a very good observation, saying that in the IPL the Indian is very prominent. This was one young Indian player who really grabbed his opportunity with both hands. If you had a chance to pick the XI, the one that you wanted, Bisla would not have got in ...
GG: True. We were forced into it because L Balaji was injured, otherwise we would have played the same team. Brendon [McCullum] was doing a good job for us though, but we were forced into it. Someone had to put his hand up and it was Bisla. The kind of innings he played, I don't think I've seen such an innings in a Twenty20 game, especially under such pressure when you’re chasing 190 in Chennai's own backyard and in the IPL final. A lot of credit goes to him. He put his hand up and handled the pressure really well.
GK: I want to ask you about Sunil Narine, who you'll be happy to know has been called up to West Indies' Test team for the third Test against England. Here's a bowler who I believe you insisted on at the auction. That's why his price went up to where it did and you were proven right. What an absolute find he is for world cricket, the quality that be brings ...
GG: Absolutely. I think he's incredible. I'll be honest and say that whenever I've played him over the last two months in the nets, I've not been able to pick him. So I can imagine how difficult it is for someone to pick him in a match. I played him in Indore where Veeru [Virender Sehwag] got his double-hundred and though he was smashed I could not pick his first five overs. I had this feeling that if it's difficult to pick someone in five overs, how difficult would it be for someone else to pick him in four overs? That was my only season [to pick Narine]. We needed someone who could bowl well for us in our conditions, where in Kolkata the ball starts gripping. I think he's done a fantastic job. People are still not able to pick him.
GK: Do you think he'll have a good Test career? Do you think people will start to pick him at the highest format? You've played Ajantha Mendis, and you remember what happened the first time and then subsequently how well you handled him. Do you think there's more to Sunil Narine than Mendis?
GG: I think its difficult to compare. Both of them are different, but Narine has a lot more variety than Mendis. He’s more accurate and he's got more zip off the wicket. Hopefully he should be a very successful Test cricket. That is what he wants to do. He's very eager to be a successful Test cricketer and I wish him a very successful career, because Test is all that matters.
GK: The IPL this time was extremely successful; according to observers, the best cricket played in the IPL's five seasons. But there were a lot of off-field issues that I'm sure came to your attention as well. Do you believe that at any level the IPL faces a sort of credibility crisis? A lot of people are making the point that the IPL really is a fun tournament and that the cricket is almost secondary. Do you agree with that view at all?
GG: Never. I don't agree at all. The IPL has everything to do with cricket. Mr Rajiv Shukla said in one of his interviews is that no one can control the IPL off the field, that no one can control individuals off the field. I totally agree with that. You cannot control what individuals do off the field. For me, the IPL is all about cricket and the kind of cricket we've seen this season shows the quality of the tournament. For me, whatever controversies happened were off the field so it's a very individual decision.
GK: Are you worried about, for instance, the role of characters who should not be around the cricket? There was even a sting operation – I'm not too sure how much wrong-doing or corruption it established – but it turned a hint in the direction that money plays a very big role in these caps on players, and all of that. What is your view, Gautam? Are there things that need to be looked at from the IPL bosses' point of view? Or are things still evolving?
GG: I think a lot has to depend on an individual as well. A couple individuals cannot ruin the entire tournament. If someone makes a mistake off the field you cannot keep blaming the IPL. That's become a story in our country: that whenever something's wrong in cricket people start criticizing the IPL. The quality that's been on show in this season of the IPL has given us a lot of good things. It’s given us great quality players in the shortest format of the game and it's increased the pool of players in India which is very important. I think the IPL has been brilliant in that way. There have been some very good young players to come through the IPL so let's stop criticizing the IPL for everything. Let's start looking at it in a positive way, because life is all about moving ahead.
GK: You talk about moving head. One of the other observations is – look at Gautam Gambhir, he's led KKR with such ferocity that took them to the IPL title. Why is Gautam Gambhir not put in a leadership role in Indian cricket? How do you view that position?
GG: I've always been a strong believer in that you don't need a designation to bring the change. You need the fire inside a human being to bring the change. It looks really nice on television or on the board when 'captain' or 'vice-captain' is written in front of your name, but ultimately you don't get selected as a captain or vice-captain. You get selected to do a job for your country or team. If I get selected today then my job is to score runs for the country. If a bowler gets selected then is job is to take wickets for the country. Designation is just a word.
GK: So you're telling me that you were not disappointed when you were overlooked as vice-captain and replaced by a younger player from your city?
GG: Never. I was not at all disappointed. I knew that I had the IPL and that I was leading KKR. It was my ambition to do well for KKR once international cricket got over and I wanted to show that it was about the team, not individuals or the captain.
GK: So its just a media headline: 'Gautam Gambhir vs MS Dhoni.' 'Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni still remain friends'?
GG: It has never been an issue between Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni. It has always been about KKR versus Chennai Super Kings.
GK: One final question on this – do you have the ambition to be captain of India one day?
GG: I think any individual who plays for India has the ambition, but you don't die for it or run for it. As I said in Australia during a press conference when someone asked 'do you see yourself as the future Indian captain?' I said I saw myself as part of the winning team in Australia, a member of the team that has won a series in Australia. That would give me more happiness than just being the captain of the Indian team. Ultimately, happiness comes from being part of a winning team not from being captain.
GK: That's the final question I want to ask you – you're on a high, there' been a lot of success, Indian cricket seems to be looking up after this IPL season, but just looking back this year it has possibly been one of the worst for a Test country. To lose 4-0 in England and in Australia ... do you now believe, Gautam, that the ruins can be recovered from and Indian cricket can recover from that body blow to our ambitions of being a top Test-playing nation?
GG: We have to. I'm a very strong believer in that if you do well in Test cricket, the other two forms will take of themselves. We need to concentrate on Test cricket, we need to give importance to it and it has to start from the media as well. We need to start talking about Test cricket more than 50-over or Twenty20 cricket. Test cricket is the most important format of the game and it your Test side is settled and doing well then I think a lot of other things can be taken care of. Lets stop talking a lot about one-day and Twenty20 cricket; Test cricket is what everyone should promote and I think youngsters should look up to.
GK: Rahul Dravid has retired ... one of the players over the years whom you've admired .. not so sure about VVS Laxman, how long he will go on. Very soon you're going to be among the leaders of this Indian batting line-up. Does that responsibility excite you?
GG: I’d be honored if that responsibility comes to me. I'd love to be the mainstay of the Indian batting because that's what you play for. You don’t play cricket to be a youngster all your life. You want to accept take responsibility and go one notch ahead, carry the Indian batting forward. I’ve always believed that it’s all about Test cricket. Whatever I do in Twent20 cricket or one-day cricket is fine, it gives you happiness but ultimately it's about Test cricket. It should be the top-most priority and for me it is the top-most priority at the moment.