‘Kumble 2’ or new dawn: Gautam Gambhir’s challenges as India coach

Gambhir is most likely to be India’s next head coach. (PC: X.com)

Over the phone, a Mumbai cricket veteran sounded sceptical. “People are going gaga over Gautam Gambhir,” he said, requesting anonymity. “I have an apprehension. This might become Kumble 2.”

Back in 2017, Anil Kumble had to make an acrimonious exit as India coach after falling out with then India captain Virat Kohli. Kumble, the great leg-spinner, fell short on the most important aspect of modern coaching, man management.

A few years ago, Paddy Upton, the former Indian team mental-conditioning coach who also coached Delhi Daredevils in the IPL, wrote a sumptuous book on the modern style of coaching. He denounced the old-school ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ style and batted for a ‘new-school’ type, where a coach becomes a learning partner.

A section in Indian cricket circles sees Gambhir as a confrontational character and fears that he will rock the boat, much to the chagrin of the star players, after becoming India coach. While informally negotiating with the BCCI, he reportedly set certain conditions and one of them was to have full command to run the team.

The Indian team has galacticos like Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah. Will Gambhir, who has publicly spoken against the star culture in the past, be able to manage them without ruffling feathers?

Private conversations with some of the Kolkata Knight Riders players will tell you that the concerns are unfounded. As KKR mentor, Gambhir created a dressing room atmosphere that saw every team member play for a common goal – winning the title. Mind, KKR had some big stars; from Mitchell Starc to Andre Russell, Sunil Narine and Shreyas Iyer. And after KKR won the IPL, all of them were effusive in their praise for the team mentor.

“GG has not just been a mentor, he has been a leader in every department for us, and I think that’s what was the key to our success,” Russell told the host broadcaster after beating Sunrisers Hyderabad in the final. “He made sure that every batter and every bowler was playing their part and GG is just an amazing guy to be in any set-up.”

Of course, Gambhir will be his own man as India coach, and he will not hesitate to take tough calls. Rewind to the 2012 IPL final, when he dropped Brendon McCallum for Manvinder Bisla. McCullum was arguably the biggest star in that KKR team, and he naturally didn’t take too kindly to his omission. In the end, however, Gambhir was proved right, as Bisla played the innings of his life and KKR won the trophy.

Some people cite Gambhir’s on-field confrontations with Kohli to suggest that the two won’t gel well in the Indian team. The former India opener, a two-time World Cup winner, has an answer for that.

“The perception is far away from reality,” Gambhir told Sportskeeda last month. “My relation with Virat Kohli is something this country doesn’t need to know. He has as much right as I do to express himself and help our respective teams win. Our relation is not to give masala to public.”

Gambhir knows how modern coaching works. He will not feel uncomfortable in a star-studded dressing room. At the same time, he is probably the right man to oversee transition.

Rahul David’s term ends after the ongoing T20 World Cup and the new coach’s tenure will be from July 1 to December 31, 2027. The Indian team is expected to undergo transition during that period, especially in white-ball cricket. New players will come in and they will have a perfect mentor and coach in Gambhir. Also, Gambhir is a winner. Hopefully, he will come up with a formula that helps India overcome the final hurdle, at the ICC events.

P.S. Former India batsman WV Raman, too, appeared (online) for the interview for the head coach’s post. And although he is unlikely to get the job, it is learnt that Raman, who was India women’s head coach from December 2018 to May 2021, could be considered as the Indian team’s new batting coach under Gambhir. Raman was KKR’s batting coach during the team’s title-winning campaign in 2014. Gambhir was the captain. A reunion is not ruled out.