When Gautam Gambhir was dropped from the 2007 World Cup squad, he was so disappointed that he almost quit cricket. As he makes his World Cup debut at home, one of the world's most exciting opening batsmen says he would like to do something "special" for the home crowd, "like my unbeaten 150 against Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens in 2009".
The excitement of the coming tournament is palpable on Gambhir's face as also the pressure of playing at home, although the 29-year-old says he prefers to keep things simple and wants to treat the mega event like any other tournament.
"The World Cup brings with it the pressure of expectations. I want to keep things simple. Naturally, I can't wish away the fact that it's a World Cup, but I will try to keep my head clear. I would stick to what I have been doing all these years; the World Cup can't be anything different," Gambhir told IANS in an interview.
"I am excited to play in front of the home crowd. If there is one innings I would like to play in the World Cup it would be something like my unbeaten 150 against Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens in 2009. It was special as I carried my bat through during the 315-run chase."
The left-handed opener feels it is the "mental preparedness" which will reflect in a player's performance and promises to give his all.
"You can't effect changes in your technique in a month or 15 days' time. Everything depends on your mental toughness and how ready you are to take on the challenge. My attempt would be to give my 100 percent, and I should feel at the end of the day that I have given my best, not that I could have done better," he said.
After his World Cup omission, Gambhir batted with purpose in domestic cricket and the inaugural World Twenty20 the same year proved to be the turning point.
"After being ignored for the World Cup, I did not pick my bat for days. I thought I will never play in a World Cup again. But sometimes lack of options also turns out to be a blessing. Yes, I could have joined my dad's business, but I thought how I would face myself in the mirror if I leave cricket only because I was not selected in the World Cup," said Gambhir, whose father runs a successful import-export business.
"I worked hard and realised that the important thing is to score runs. I roughed it out in Ranji Trophy and felt happy scoring runs.
"Things got different after the Twenty20 World Cup. Who would have thought that I would end up as the second highest scorer?"
Since then Gambhir has nine ODI and Test centuries to his name, was the 2009 ICC Test player and even led the side in the ODI series against New Zealand at home in the absence of senior players last year.
In modern cricket, Gambhir forms an explosive opening pair with friend, mentor and another Delhi player Virender Sehwag and says he is comforted by his presence at the other end.
"Having Viru at the other end is always nice. He knows my game, knows how I mentally approach to situations in a match. We keep talking to each other when we are batting together. I know I can always go up to him and say that I am not comfortable playing a particular bowler and then we decide how to go about it. I don't think I can do that with any other batsman. We have such great understanding," said Gambhir.
The Indian team, ranked second in the ODIs, is touted as the favourites to win the Cup but Gambhir steers clear of naming any favourites.
"In World Cup, five overs can change the game. I feel a No.1 or a No.2 side won't take any opponents lightly."
Gambhir says India's performance during the New Zealand tour in 2009 gave them the confidence to beat the top sides in the world. The series was special for Gambhir, who was the highest run getter in the Test series and resolutely batted for nearly 11 hours at Napier to earn India a draw. India had won both the ODI and Test series.
"The New Zealand tour gave us the confidence that we can overpower other big sides. It proved to be the turning point as we registered victories over South Africa and Australia after that," he said.