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‘For me, Gambhir’s a bulldog... he’ll bite and never ever let go’

- Exclusive

- KKR just needed to increase the heat a bit: Horn

Mike Horn, in the city, after rejoining the KKR franchise. Picture by Santosh Ghosh

Calcutta: Mike Horn, who needs no introduction, spoke to The Telegraph before Qualifier 1.

Excerpts...

Q You’d worked with the Mumbai Indians for a couple of years... Who took the lead to involve you with the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR)?

A Adrian le Roux, the franchise’s physical trainer. He spoke to the CEO, Venky Mysore, and then sent me a mail. I was then preparing to scale Mount Makalu... I agreed to spend a few days in the UAE, provided KKR paid for my ticket back to Nepal! The CEO agreed.

I assume you started your assignment with an open mind...

Well, I was aware that the franchise had quite a few new players. I knew there was talent, also that there would be egos... My approach was that if players drop their egos and know what they could expect from each other, then there wouldn’t be any bitching or moaning in KKR.

What’s the ideal way to bond?

To be open-minded and be honest — to yourself and to your team. You can’t always win, but you must never stop doing the right things. In the long run, that pays off.

Generally, what did you tell the Gautam Gambhirs?

I didn’t talk as a teacher would in a classroom, but adopted the storytelling approach... During the one-on-ones, I realised that some of the players had a lot of baggage. I had to find the qualities in them to enable them deliver. Last year, there was probably an imbalance between what the players thought they could put on the table and what the KKR management expected from them.

When dealing with professionals, what can a coach or a motivational guru do?

Not teach them to play better cricket, but to be mentally stronger than the opposition.

You had to work with the management as well...

I did... I got to know what the management expected from their players and also what they could actually deliver... So, my job was to help bridge the gap.

With what impressions did you leave the UAE (before IPL VII got underway)?

That the franchise gives freedom and space to its players. That the environment encourages performance.

How did you get to know that KKR had lost four matches on the trot?

Through an email from Adrian... As it was copied to my wife (Cathy), she gave the news when I called her, from Nepal, on my satellite phone.

What was your reaction?

I realised that it could happen in the IPL... Also realised that KKR had the ingredients to bake a lovely cake, they just needed to increase the heat a bit! I left a voicemail for Adrian and dictated a tweet to my wife... ‘There comes a time in your life when you have to stop running and start fighting’... KKR, I’d like to believe, got the message.

You’d just completed the expedition to Mount Makalu when the franchise called you. What made you come immediately?

To be honest, I came back only for Gambhir and Jacques Kallis.

Why?

If I have to go to war, I’d take Gambhir and Kallis with me.

That’s a huge comment to make...

My experience with Gambhir during the 2011 World Cup was amazing... He’s a guy who’ll never let you down and his 97 won that final for India... Gambhir didn’t get the MoM award (it went to captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni), but he was my man... For me, Gambhir’s a bulldog... He’ll bite and never ever let go. The younger players may score more, could be more dynamic... But you’d like Gambhir in your team and not in the opposition.

Kallis?

My first interaction with Kallis was in the summer of 2012, when South Africa came to Switzerland for a camp, organised by me, before their tour of England. I realised that so much is Kallis’s experience and knowledge that even if he doesn’t play, he can give rich inputs and mentor the younger lot. Maybe Kallis isn’t at a stage where he’s firing on all cylinders, but he can get others to do just that.

Mentoring is becoming an important aspect in today’s sport?

In cricket, we don’t really use the experience of the senior players... They’re such a repository of knowledge... There are two aspects in life... What you get and what you leave behind. You’ll never be remembered for what you get from life, but what you leave behind. I think India needs more people who’ll leave something behind.

What’s your take on Gambhir as captain?

People underestimate Gambhir, but he’d be the first person not to go down without a fight... He takes responsibility for his decisions and doesn’t point fingers... He backs himself and his players, which makes him a good captain and leader... Leaders are put in a position so that they can take decisions... Gambhir shows the emotions he’s going through, nothing is put on.

Robin Uthappa’s in the form of his life...

We had dinner together in the UAE, the initiative taken by Uthappa... We spoke about the family, the expectations... How he’d been seen somewhat of a failure... Uthappa likes to be flamboyant on the field, but issues were crippling him... I told him that the negatives had to be kept away... That the garden in his mind had to grow beautiful flowers, not weeds... Now, he’s playing with freedom... You can see the difference in the way he smiles, the way he talks... His body language. Uthappa’s in good space.

Do all players know how to grow ‘beautiful flowers’ in their mind?

No... Many don’t know, my job is to help them do that.

What’s needed by a sportsman to be successful?

True values... The dream can’t stop once you start playing for your country... For the Sachin Tendulkars, the dream began once they started playing for the country... Whether it’s playing for India or for South Africa or for KKR, it’s for the players to write their history... To reveal their passion and hunger. You need to be passionate, you need to be hungry.

The last one... Your advice to the Gambhirs before Qualifier 1...

That each player must want to be the one to make the difference... The play-offs is half the journey... I’ve got to be careful, not to rock the boat, for I’ve come into their space in the midst of an exceptional run.