KKR thrive on Gambhir masterstroke

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

Can a backroom staff change a team’s fortunes on the field? The question has to be asked. The IPL franchises value backroom appointments. They carefully choose their mentors. Of course, a mentor’s role is limited, but in terms of creating the right dressing room atmosphere, his contribution can be pivotal.

Circa 2023 was a season of ferment for Kolkata Knight Riders. They failed to reach the playoffs and behind the scenes also, all was not quite well. They appointed Chandrakant Pandit as the head coach and his ‘tough love’ approach wasn’t going down well with a number of players.

Namibia all-rounder, David Wiese, who was a KKR player last term, recently spoke about the dressing room discord on the podcast, ‘Hitman for Hire: A Year in the Life of a Franchise Cricketer’. He described Pandit as a “militant type of coach”.

Something had to change this season. The KKR management didn’t sack Pandit, but they brought in Gautam Gambhir as the team mentor from Lucknow Super Giants. And it is proving to be a masterstroke.

Gambhir is a proven winner under whose captaincy KKR won their two IPL titles. And the way KKR have been playing this year, Gambhir’s influence is clear. Certain changes have been brought in as far as training methods are concerned, one of them being putting a lot of emphasis on range-hitting, especially on a match-eve. More importantly, the team is playing fearless cricket, Gambhir’s mantra for success.

Pairing up Phil Salt and Sunil Narine at the top has also augured well. Five games on, they are the most consistent opening pair in this year’s tournament. Before the LSG game, Gambhir was asked about Salt not scoring runs in the last couple of matches and his response was: “I think we have had a fabulous opening partnership. Before the season, a lot of people had spoken about our opening combination, but I think Sunil and Salt have done a fabulous job. See what they have done as a pair and that is what cricket is all about.”

Barely hours later, Salt scored a match-winning 47-ball 89 not out against LSG at Eden Gardens on Sunday. With Gambhir in the LSG corner, KKR had lost all three matches against the Lucknow-based franchise before Sunday’s encounter. With Gambhir on their side, KKR hammered LSG, winning by eight wickets with 26 balls to spare. Coincidence?

After five matches, KKR are placed second in the table with eight points and a net run rate of 1.688. Gambhir’s winning mentality is clearly rubbing off on the team.

And yes, the KKR mentor was asked about Pandit’s coaching style as well. “I haven’t heard about any criticism. It’s been early days, and my working relationship with him has been really very good. Hopefully, it will continue that way,” he said. “Whatever has been said, I have no clue about it. I think he has been pretty successful in first-class cricket, and that is the reason why he has got this opportunity.”

Gambhir is quietly making a difference.

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