Gautam Gambhir’s straight talk while I was banned for home World Cup

Left: Gautam Gambhir. Source: X. Right: Boria Majumdar.

During the two years of my ban, the event that I was most apprehensive about was the World Cup on home soil in October 2023. It was the biggest cricket event in India in years, and to not be able to do my work in the manner that I was used to was going to hurt a lot. It wasn’t a level playing field with the sanction still in place and I was starting out with a serious handicap. When I compared the Cricket World Cup to the Asian Games, for instance, I knew as a team we would do well in the latter. We have established ourselves as credible players in the domain and athletes know what we stand for. Hundreds of stories and interviews in the last two years bear testimony. However, when it came to cricket, my team was weakened without me being able to lead from the front and make the necessary connections.

One of the first people I called for help was Gautam Gambhir. Gautam is a good friend and a straight talker. If he did not want to do an interview, he would say so to my face. And that was fine by me. We have known each other for years and have spoken to each other often in the last 24 months. He was aware of what had actually happened and knew my side of the story. I consider him one of the most astute analysts of the game and someone who has helped India win two World Cups. For a World Cup series, few could be better. What does it take to play an innings like he did under pressure when India had lost both Sachin and Sehwag? And that too on home soil? What does it take to score 75 in a World T20 final against Pakistan? With Gautam, you get answers. He will not sit on the fence or say things in a roundabout manner. Ask him a straight question and he will give you a direct answer. That’s what you need on a chat show, and so Gautam was the first person I called. 

Image: Joy Sengupta

Gautam was receptive as always. He heard me out in detail and asked when I wanted to record. No money talk, nothing. It was agreed that we would record the show on a Saturday evening when he was relatively free to do a deep dive. I needed Gautam to put things in perspective for my audience. For that, I needed to ask him all the relevant questions. It couldn’t be a rush job and was only possible when he had time to think and answer every question. It wasn’t a news byte I was asking for. I was asking for a long 30-minute chat where nothing was pre-scripted. He made things easier by saying I could ask him anything I wanted. And that time wasn’t an issue. He was doing this to help and wanted the series to go well. Very Gautam. If he believes in something, he will definitely do it. Many feel he is headstrong and has strong opinions. He does, but that’s what makes him the man he is. He doesn’t give diplomatic answers, and as an interviewer that’s what you ask for. In fact, as the interview started, I had very little talking to do. Gautam was intense and passionate and gave me heartfelt answers. Exactly what you need as a host. When I asked if he felt that his 97 in the 2011 World Cup final wasn’t celebrated enough, his response was fascinating: ‘I have never thought about it that way. I did not play for stats. They don’t matter to me. Had I got a zero and India won, I would be okay. If I got a hundred and India lost, I would never be happy. So the 97 means a lot to me because it helped India win the World Cup after 28 years. Coming to the question, if it has been celebrated enough, not just my 97. Do we celebrate Yuvraj Singh enough for what he did in the 2011 World Cup with all the health concerns he had? Do we celebrate Zaheer Khan’s opening spell enough? To start off a World Cup final with four maiden overs is incredible, and yet he isn’t given enough credit. Do we celebrate Sachin Tendulkar’s efforts enough? Yes, we celebrate him and the win but how many remember he was the highest scorer in the World Cup with two hundreds to his name? It is because of social media that we don’t do it. Social media is biased and we all know that. But social media doesn’t make it the truth.’ 

As Gautam spoke, I thought about what had happened to me. Social media had decided I was guilty. There was no reason or logic behind this. But once done, it was the established narrative.

As the interview ended, Gautam asked me if I was satisfied. He knew the interview was important for me and had done it as a show of support.

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