Gambhir in familiar territory facing unfamiliar test

Gautam Gambhir with Rinku Singh
Gautam Gambhir with Rinku Singh (PC: X)

Going by media attention and fanfare, Gautam Gambhir seems to be the most valuable acquisition of the Kolkata Knight Riders for IPL 2024 after Mitchell Starc. Cameras trained on him at the airport and during net sessions, in the City of Joy, the team mentor appears second in importance only to the most expensive buy in the competition’s history.

Gambhir remains a symbol of hope for the franchise, which did not do much of note before and after he led them from 2011 to 2017. He lifted KKR from also-rans in the first three seasons of the league to champions in 2012 and 2014. Other than captaining the team with an aggressive mindset and optimally using his battery of spinners, Gambhir the batter was an unselfish pace-setter.

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Gautam Gambhir
Gautam Gambhir (PC: X)

In his new role, the challenge for Gambhir is to oversee the process of developing a system that produces results, without using some of the qualities which made him a smart skipper. His passion will be restricted to the dugout, actions will not inspire players and decision-making will be reduced to getting messages relayed out to the middle.

That Gambhir needs a new set of skills is known. What constitutes those skills is not. That’s because a mentor’s job description, how much of authority he has, his dos and don’ts are not well defined. KKR is not the only team to have one. Several IPL sides have illustrious names to go, with an army of support staff, including a chief coach, plus coaches for batting, bowling and fielding.

And KKR have to do better. After two wins and three more playoffs in seven years under Gambhir, they made the playoffs only twice in the last six editions, the best being runners-up in 2021. The difference in consistency and verve between the teams with and without Gambhir is stark. To recapture some of the old spark, KKR have brought him over from Lucknow Super Giants.

In two seasons with Lucknow, Gambhir was successful. The mentor must have got a few things right for the new franchise to reach the playoffs in both seasons of its existence. Building a team from scratch and getting the players to perform in unison in an unpredictable tournament like the IPL is no mean achievement. The KKR management was quick to notice this.

Gautam Gambhir and Sunil Narine
Gautam Gambhir and Sunil Narine (PC: Debasis Sen)

A successful captain in IPL as well as in the Ranji Trophy for Delhi, Gambhir was a forthright leader. He was the proactive type, unafraid to be labelled brash, and showed his emotions on the field. He was also a player’s captain, who offered his Man-of-the-Match award to unknown Bengal batter Debabrata Das, for a cameo towards the end in a chase against Chennai Super Kings in 2012.

However, he has to work on a different kind of man-management as a mentor. Chandrakant Pandit, KKR’s chief coach, is a firm character and a believer in his own methods. He gives importance to discipline, punctuality and doesn’t hold back when it comes to speaking his mind.

Gambhir was good at bringing the best out of his players. Now, he has to handle them as well as the coaches, who are qualified enough to be appointed in those positions. Avoiding personality clashes and delivering the goods while working with people you don’t know that well is no ordinary task. He also has to guide Shreyas Iyer at a time the KKR captain is in the news for different reasons.

Additionally, Gambhir has to deal with the pressure of expectations. Hopes on him will be higher than they were in Lucknow. Not as much as Starc, Gambhir will also be under scrutiny. Irrespective of who takes decisions, fingers will be pointed at him if things don’t click. At his familiar Eden Gardens, KKR’s mentor faces a fresh test. He may have to handle a few things he is not familiar with.

Also Read: Strike-rate 105 and one boundary attempt, Kohli struggling to keep pace?

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