Ranji Trophy 2018-19, Group B: Gambhir lights up Kotla in final competitive match

Gautam Gambhir lived a charmed life but his famous grit was displayed in abundance on way to an unbeaten 92, his final knock in competitive cricket guiding Delhi to 190/1 against Andhra at the Feroz Shah Kotla on Friday. On the second day of their Ranji Trophy encounter, Delhi were placed well in reply to the visitors’ first-innings score of 390.

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Resuming the day on 266 for 7, Andhra’s lower order showed resistance with Shoiab Khan, Manish Golamaru and Bandaru Ayyappa contributing 28, 36 and 21* respectively. And then of course, Ricky Bhui scored 187 to finish the Andhra innings within touching distance of 400. Once the innings ended, all eyes were focussed on Gambhir, playing his last competitive cricket match of any form.

Everything else became a footnote once Gambhir entered the field. The stage was set and there were little elements that the handful of people would remember in his last hurrah. There was a customary security breach (synonymous with Kotla) with a fan trying to click a selfie before being hauled up, the Guard of Honour by teammates at every break and his wife turning up with two adorable daughters just after the husband completed a fifty.

There was the artist Saif splashing his canvas with colours to capture for posterity his final on-field exploits. Gambhir had it all and even the almightly wouldn’t have wanted the fairytale script to go awry. So no one complained when an Andhra fielder dropped a sitter at mid-off, a regulation catch which would have been otherwise gobbled “11 out of 10 times”.

He was twice dropped in the slips but it didn’t matter during the 152 balls that he played. People wanted to see Gambhir bat like Gambhir. Ugly but effective with some pleasant drives sprinkled in between and scrappy at other times. The tuck of the hips, the jabs and the dabs with quick rush and that occasional cover drive were all there to see.

Once into his 70s, he slowed down as the milestone approached. The photographers got edgy, elder daughter Azeen and toddler Anaiza wanted to run into the ground, but Gambhir didn’t want to ruin it. He was ready to grind it one last time. His opening partner, Hiten Dalal scored an attractive half-century but it dwarfed in front of a rollicking innings from the former Delhi captain.

It was Gambhir’s last chance to lift his bat, open his helmet and acknowledge whoever will be present at the Kotla on Saturday. He needs eight runs more and probably wouldn’t mind if a few more cricket fans turn up for that probable moment. Gambhir, and his fans, know he deserves that last hurrah.

Brief Score: Delhi 190 for 1 (Gautam Gambhir 92*, Hiten Dalal 58) trail Andhra 390 all out (Ricky Bhui 187; Subodh Bhati 5 for 48) by 200 runs.