Only one and a half hours were remaining in Gautam Gambhir’s life as a cricketer. The placards of ‘Thank you, Gauti’ were been hung in the dressing rooms of the sides at the Bishan Singh Bedi end. A steady stream of fans, volunteers wearing ‘Thank you Gauti’ shirts, red balloons bearing Gambhir’s name had made their way to the Kotla. Outside the stadium, there was heavy police protection and a sense of tension prevailed in Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg due to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) rally on the Ram Mandir issue. Traffic was clogged. However, the fans and the guests present were not concerned about events outside. For many, they were waiting for Gambhir, who had hit a century in the first innings, to bat one last time. Andhra were seven down and the lead was slender.
After over one hour, Delhi took the remaining wickets with debutant Shivank Vashisht taking 5/49. Delhi needed 88 runs off 13 overs but the light was fading fast. The fans, who were waiting for a glimpse of Gambhir were disappointed when Hiten Dalal and Anuj Rawat came to bat. Andhra slowed the pace down and both struggled for the big hits. When Dalal was out, Gambhir did not come out as Lalit Yadav came to bat. When Yadav miscued a lofted shot, one fan shouted, “Maaro ya jao, yaar” (Hit or get out). After five overs, bad light stopped play and the match ended in a draw. However, the match was a side show. The real event, which was to bid Gambhir goodbye, was about to begin.
On the final day of the match, Gambhir had not stepped on the field. When the match ended, Gambhir came onto the field, escorted by the players of Delhi. The smile on Gambhir was a mixture of relief and realization. Both players from Andhra and Delhi had a moment with one of the players who played a vital role in the glorious campaigns of the 2007 World T20 and 2011 World Cup.
After the players posed with Gambhir, it was time for the officialdom to take over and tributes poured in. Gambhir came on to the mike and said, “I have always been honest with DDCA and I wanted to finish my career here. There were times when I had the option to play in other states. Loyalty is something which is important to me. I thought that wherever I started, I wanted to end there.”
At the same time, the ‘Thank you Gauti’ balloons were released in the air. The volunteers, journalists and officials were all busy taking photos and shooting videos. Wife Natasha and family were given gifts. Afterwards, Gambhir, cradling his little daughter Anaiza, took a walk around the stadium for one last time. He went to the Mohinder Amarnath stand where most of the fans were present. He shook hands with the fans as they shouted ‘Gauti, Gauti’. Some screamed ‘Thank you’. One fan jumped the barricade and tried to come near Gambhir, but he was taken down by security and Delhi’s bowling coach Parvinder Awana. Accompanying Gambhir, there were players like Sumit Narwal and Unmukt Chand, captain of the India U-19 side who helped India win the World Cup in 2012.
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Too straightforward a person
In the interaction with journalists, Gambhir was tired but satisfied. On social media, players posted their moments with Gambhir and used #ThankYouGambhir and added the tagline “Tumko naa bhool payenge hum” (We will never forget you). When asked about his future in administration, Gambhir gave an epic reply. “Too straight forward a person to be in administration. I don't think people would accept me anywhere,” Gambhir said with his savage wit.
Some fans hung in at the Virender Sehwag gate hoping to catch a glimpse of him. It was a rather low-key send-off to a legend. The sun had set at the Kotla. Gambhir, just like that and content with his work, hopped on his SUV and drove off into the sunset, bringing an end to an illustrious cricket career.