Gautam Gambhir, my student, you’ve done us proud

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed, IANS,

Tears welled up my eyes when I saw Gautam miss his ton by a whisker. I still remember Gautam, very thin, almost appearing to be under-fed, simple but smiling, but who helped India come out of dire straits during the Cricket World Cup final. The boy in traditional blue uniform happened to be an unassuming, simple and unknown student in 1995-96 session when I used to teach him English in class 8 at Modern School, New Delhi.However, Gautam appeared to be frail, weak and so far so that one day I asked him whether he was able of hold the heavy cricket bat. He just smiled, thinking that sir hasn’t seen how he uses the bat as a sledge hammer when the opponent’s ball approaches.

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Had he shown the kind of seriousness he has for cricket in academics, he surely would have been a professor but he chose the right field. I still remember that I used to reprimand him as he often missed my classes.

Even Gautam’s language and literature exercise books were not up to date. He always told me that he was playing for the junior category or the under-14 zonal or the under-14 Indian team to England. I always chided him to tell me in advance about his participation schedule. He never did.

One day, exasperated, I talked to the then headmistress, Neelam Puri, and asked that I wanted a word with his father. She told me to go to the office and I had a word with Mr. Gambhir, who promised to see me on the next PTA on the coming Saturday.

Mr. Gambhir fulfilled his promise and attended the PTA that day. He is a cloth merchant at Krishna Cloth Market in Old Delhi. I told him that Gautam often misses my classes and doesn’t complete his written record. At that, he told me that Gauti is usually busy representing the school or Delhi team and that he be forgiven and in future he would make it a point to let me know about his tourneys.

At that I told Mr. Gambhir that the boy will be pardoned of course but the matter would really be compensated only if he becomes another Sunil Gavaskar! I think these words were really prophetic and in no time he became Sunil Gavaskar – rather a bigger star even! While he was in class 10, he was chosen for Ranji Trophy. From there, he never looked back and became the opener of Indian test and one-day cricket team.

I often used to have light moments with him. I used to tell him to train me in cricket. He also bowled medium fast and told me that he began as a pace bowler. However, seeing him sometimes at the net in school, I often observed one thing that he used to play with a straight bat and read the ball early as used to be the case of Sunil Gavaskar — one of the finest batsmen of the world cricket history.

Over the years, Gautam not only perfected his batting, he was selected for the Indian team. Whenever I read the sports page of the newspapers and saw his name for scoring centuries, my heart used to fill with pride.

In my subject, Gautam had managed to pass; however, he was not good at maths. I even requested my colleague Mukesh Maithani who was kind enough to give extra time during the break or after school.

It was my routine at least once a week to see Gautam practice at the nets. I even gave him tips to play the ball straighter and use more of shoulder during hitting a high rise ball. He used to smile at me.

If at the school it was Naveen – our cricket coach, who turned him into an attacking batsman, at the club level, Bishan Singh Bedi – the great spinner, turned him into a matured and reliable batsman like Rahul Dravid or V.V.S. Laxman. Though the school has also given cricketers like Kirti Azad and Bhaskar Pillai, Gautam stands head high above shoulders compared to them.

After Gauti left school, I felt overjoyed reading about his exploits in the newspapers. He represented India in 2003 and did play some stunning innings both in the tests and the one-day format. However, when his bad patch arrived, he was left out for the 2007 World Cup. I messaged him that such bad patches are a part and parcel of life and that we have to live with these. However, the great ones are those who come out of it and he did come out of that.

After that, Gambhir never looked back. He started scoring century after century and fifty after fifty. His World Cup 97 – the highest score – was the one that was the best and despite the Man of the Match award eluding him, he remains my man of the final because of the way he solidified India after some early shocks.

Lata Vaidyanathan, the principal at Modern School, has asked him to receive a felicitation from his alma mater once he is freed from the state functions and other awards honouring the champion cricketers. The Indian cricket team is there to rule the world of cricket now with Gauti being the most consistent batsman.

(Firoz Bakht Ahmed teaches at the English faculty of Modern School and has taught Gautam Gambhir. He can be contacted at [email protected])