Around a year back, Gautam Gambhir had chided a website for making it appear as if India’s 2011 World Cup win was all about the famous six that skipper MS Dhoni smashed in the final to clinch the tournament.
Exactly a decade after India famously won the 2011 World Cup, Gambhir, who cracked 97 in that final against Sri Lanka at Mumbai, tells TOI why he thinks there were multiple heroes of that triumph, with the main man being Yuvraj Singh, who was named as the ‘Man of the Tournament’ for his all-round exploits.
It’s been a decade since you guys were rejoicing with the World Cup at Wankhede. Must feel special to look back…
I don’t look back at things because I think it’s time to move forward. Indian cricket can’t keep thinking that we won the World Cup in 2011. I said exactly the same thing that time too. It’s about looking ahead. We did something which we were supposed to achieve. We didn’t do something which we weren’t supposed to do. I mean, people can keep saying a lot of things and keep praising themselves, but I’m not that kind of a person.
A DECADE LATER, THE LEGEND HAS GROWN: Even Kumar Sangakkara (left) can’t help but smile as Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni celebrate after India beat Sri Lanka in the World Cup final in Mumbai on April 2, 2011. (TOI Photo)
Last year, you’d tweeted that the triumph wasn’t about one man, but the whole team, after a website termed it as the ‘six that sealed the ‘World Cup.’ Can you elaborate?
Do you think that only one individual won us the World Cup? If one individual could have won the World Cup, then India could have won all the World Cups till now. Unfortunately, in India, it’s only about worshipping certain individuals. I’ve never believed in that. In a team sport, individuals have no place. It’s all about contributions. Can you forget Zaheer Khan’s contribution? His first spell in the final, where he bowled three successive maidens? Can you forget what Yuvraj Singh did against Australia? Or for that matter, Sachin Tendulkar‘s hundred against South Africa? Why do we keep remembering about one six? If one six can win you the World Cup, then I think Yuvraj Singh should have won six World Cups for India, because he hit six sixes in an over (against England in 2007 World T20 at Durban). No one talks about Yuvraj. He was the ‘Man of the Tournament’ in the 2007 (officially, Shahid Afridi was) & the 2011 World Cups. And we keep talking about that one six.
Was that 97 in the final the most special knock of your career? India needed that after Sachin and Sehwag got out early. Did it get the kind of attention it deserved…
Firstly, it wasn’t the most memorable knock for me, because every knock of mine, which has helped India win is very memorable for me. Every run which has helped the country is more important. When you say that my 97 hasn’t been talked about, it’s the media which doesn’t speak about it. But the normal individuals, wherever I go, they talk about it. And that’s my biggest achievement. Not the 97 I scored, but when people come up to me and ‘say thank you for the World Cup,’ that’s my biggest achievement. That’s the biggest medal which I’ve won. The media can talk about certain individuals. It doesn’t bother me one bit because I didn’t play for the media.
You got four half-centuries and were in good form.
The guy in best touch was Yuvraj. And it is not about scoring runs. See, people will score runs. It’s about scoring runs at the right moment. When it comes to the knockouts, the crunch situation, and then you deliver, then it’s about your mental toughness. I won’t degrade any opposition, runs are runs, but when you can get the runs in the quarterfinals, semis and the final, that sets you apart. That is what decides what kind of form you are in, because you know that there’s no scope to make a mistake. Therefore, I always say that Yuvraj was in very good touch. I remember that in a league game, against Ireland at Bangalore, we were in a spot of bother, and he won the game. He also got a half-century against England.
Despite being an opener, you played at No 3, allowing Sachin and Sehwag to open. Was it difficult to adjust?
Except in one game, I played at No 3 throughout. For me, it’s not about the number. It’s about having the opportunity of playing in a World Cup final, which not many people have. I’ve always believed that it’s not about what number an individual wants to bat at. It’s about what the team, and the captain and team management want you to bat at. Even if they’d have wanted me to bat at No 6 or 7, I would’ve happily done that. That’s how I look at a team sport. A lot of people have spoken about wanting to bat at certain numbers. I don’t think that there’s any place for that kind of discussion in my dictionary.
How did you guys cope with the pressure of home expectations? Virat Kohli & Co play two World Cups – T20 this year and the 50-over WC in 2023, at home.
I can’t talk on behalf of the other individuals. All I can say is that for me, the platform never mattered. For me, all that mattered was the contest between the bat and ball. Had it not been Lasith Malinga, and had it been a Ranji Trophy bowler, and I was playing a Ranji Trophy final, I would have prepared in the same way, because ultimately, it’s not the bowler versus the batsman, it’s the ball versus the bat. I’m not good at doing other things but taking the platform or the occasion out of my mindset is easy for me, because any game that I’ve played, I’ve always played it with the same intensity. All that mattered was that I had to be better in that contest. Whether it was 0 for one, or 0 for two, it didn’t matter to me. Because even if it had been 100-1, I would have gone in with the same mindset of winning the contest.
The build up to this victory perhaps started when India won the CB series in 2008. The team had begun to find a set of match-winners, and was gelling well as a unit…
It’s important that you can have a settled unit eight months before the World Cup. If you keep experimenting, checking on players, you’ll always be very confused, because there’s so much talent in India. There will always be talent in India because of the amount of people, kids who play cricket in India. However, if you keep checking out players, keep giving them opportunities, there’ll always be more competition. The more the competition, the more will be the insecurity. I’m not against giving opportunity to players, but I’m always in favour of giving enough opportunities to players to test them, and then probably test the next one.
You can’t test any player just by giving him two or three games and then another one two-three games, and then you turn around and say: ‘There’s so much competition for places.’ It’s good to have competition for places, but it’s even worse to have insecurity amongst the players. Our squad was pretty settled around eight months before the World Cup, and that is why people could go out and probably express themselves. Most of the guys knew that they would be a part of the World Cup team.
There were a few unsung heroes. Munaf Patel bowled some incisive, economical spells, but didn’t get enough credit for that. Same was the case with Ashish Nehra, who bowled well, especially in the semifinal against Pakistan.
There were 13, or probably 14 unsung heroes of that win! Munaf, I, Harbhajan Singh, Virat Kohli, who got a hundred in the first game, Suresh Raina, who played a crucial knock against Pakistan – all these players’ contribution was unbelievable. For that matter, when I look back at it today after 10 years, I feel Yuvraj is an unsung hero as well, despite being the ‘Man of the Tournament.’ You won’t talk about him, but people do talk about that one six for sure.
Yuvraj chipped in as the fifth bowler as well, taking so many wickets with his left-arm spin…
People say that I’m the unsung hero of that victory, but for me, he’s the biggest unsung hero of both the World Cup wins for India. Without his contribution, India wouldn’t have won the 2011 World Cup. For me, he was the biggest player in both the World Cups. I don’t like talking about individuals because in a team sport everyone contributes – who won both the World Cups, it must be Yuvraj and no one else.
Yes, I got a 75 in the 2007 World T20 final and was the highest run-getter of the 2011 final. However, what he did, I don’t think anyone else can.
How did the team cope with the pressure of the semifinal against Pakistan at Mohali?
I don’t think that we played well, but we still managed to win that game! We were probably mediocre! We should have got more runs than the 260-odd we got. We won that much because of Suresh Raina’s innings. But then again, it’s about winning. And that’s why I say that in a World Cup, sometimes you play mediocre cricket and win if you can win those games…perhaps our best game came against Australia in the quarterfinals. It’s not about Pakistan, to be honest. I don’t believe in all that stuff that playing Pakistan is more emotional, or a pressure game. Ultimately, you don’t watch the colour of the jersey. You watch the cricket ball. When you’re playing in a World Cup, whether you’re playing Pakistan or New Zealand, you’ve got to go out there and win.
A lot of players from that team lost their place soon after that triumph. What went wrong from there?
That question can be answered better by the coach, captain and the selectors, because I was neither. Obviously, you feel sad that you could not go on to defend the World Cup. How many people (from the 2011 team) got a chance to defend the World Cup (in 2015)- very few, two or three, I think. It must’ve hurt Yuvraj, Harbhajan, and all of those who were a part of the 2011 team, to not be able to defend the World Cup, but that’s what life is!
Any special anecdote that you remember.
We were playing against the West Indies at Chennai, and we had more than 600-700 bats in our dressing room! I mean, you can imagine having that many bats in the dressing room can be embarrassing! When we counted how many bats every individual has, we found that even the bowlers had 10 bats in their kit bags! That was the number of bats we were getting from all the companies, which was a bit of a surprise! Since we were not allowed to go back home throughout the tournament, we kept getting bats from all the companies.
Coach Gary Kirsten‘s calming influence would’ve helped…
He was a very good man manager. He worked hard, threw a lot of balls (at the batsmen). See ultimately, in international sport, it’s all about being a good man manager. You don’t need to teach someone technical stuff, unless there’s a massive problem. If he can be hard-working, gel with the group well, that’s all that’s required. He had both these qualities – being a good man-manager, and was hard-working.
Do you think that Kohli & co will emulate your bunch later this year, and/or in 2023, when the T20 and the 50 over World Cups are held in India?
See, I’m not an astrologer, but I hope they do, because very few people get the opportunity to play in a World Cup for their country. A lot of things change between one World Cup and the other one. These players would be very fortunate that they’d be playing three World Cups in a row. They’ll have a great opportunity to perhaps do something special for the country, and I hope they do, because ultimately, when you do something good for your country, it always stays in your memory forever.
HOW INDIA WON THE 2011 WORLD CUP: A REVIEW
MATCH 1: February 19: Dhaka: India 370/4 bt Bangladesh 283/9 by 87 runs.
MATCH 2: February 27: Bengaluru: India 338 tied with England 338/8.
MATCH 3: March 6: Bengaluru: India 210/5 bt Ireland 207 by five wickets.
MATCH 4: March 9: Delhi: India 191/5 bt Netherlands 189 by 5 wickets.
MATCH 5: March 12: Nagpur: India 296 lost to SA 300/7 by 3 wickets.
MATCH 6: March 20: Chennai: India 268 by West Indies 188 by 80 runs.
MATCH 7: March 24: QF: Ahmedabad: India 261/5 bt Australia 260/6 by 5 wickets. MoM: Yuvraj Singh
MATCH 8: March 30: SF: Mohali: India 260/9 bt Pakistan 231 by 29 runs. MoM: S Tendulkar
MATCH 9: APRIL 2: Final: Mumbai: India 277/4 bt SL 274/6 by six wickets. MoM: MS Dhoni