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regular-article-logo Monday, 24 June 2024

Gautam Gambhir: ‘Unbelievable brain’ that breeds success

It’s not that the former India opener’s success in the IPL has been limited only to KKR. The Lucknow Super Giants reached the IPL playoffs in back-to-back seasons under Gambhir’s mentorship since their debut in 2022

Sayak Banerjee Calcutta Published 24.05.24, 07:43 AM
Winning combination: Kolkata Knight Riders mentor Gautam Gambhir, a two-time IPL winning captain, with coach Chandrakant Pandit at Eden Gardens.

Winning combination: Kolkata Knight Riders mentor Gautam Gambhir, a two-time IPL winning captain, with coach Chandrakant Pandit at Eden Gardens. PTI picture.

Gautam Gambhir’s bond with Kolkata Knight Riders has always been productive. But success isn’t readymade and it’s credit to Gambhir’s cricketing acumen that he has turned the franchise’s fortunes this year.

When Gambhir first joined the Knight Riders in 2011 as their captain, they reached the last-four stage of the IPL for the first time before losing to Mumbai Indians in the Eliminator. The following year, in 2012, he led the Knight Riders to their maiden IPL crown and then won the trophy again for the franchise in 2014.

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It’s not that the former India opener’s success in the IPL has been limited only to KKR. The Lucknow Super Giants reached the IPL playoffs in back-to-back seasons under Gambhir’s mentorship since their debut in 2022.

For the Knights, disappointment followed after their runners-up finish in 2021. Ahead of the current season, they reunited with Gambhir, who returned as mentor and the result, so far, is a fourth IPL final appearance.

Gambhir has got most things correct for KKR, be it as captain or mentor. Of course, additions ahead of IPL 2024 in the form of Phil Salt and Mitchell Starc have been a factor in their march to the final after finishing the league phase as toppers. But the influence of Gambhir has had a bigger role to play.

What’s probably the best decision Gambhir has taken this season is promoting Sunil Narine as an opener. And that’s how the 35-year-old Narine has been best utilised as he’s KKR’s highest run-getter so far in this edition (with 482 runs, including a maiden IPL century). He is also in the running for the most valuable player’s award, having performed with the ball too (16 wickets at an economy rate of 6.90).

“From Day I itself, Gautam had told Sunil, ‘You’ll be opening in all the matches this year.’ He made Sunil practise range-hitting in almost all practice sessions and that has benefited the Trinidadian massively,” a KKR official told The Telegraph on Thursday.

Andre Russell, 36, isn’t getting any younger. Gambhir made sure the West Indies all-rounder was handled with care.

“As a bowler, Russell had to be utilised smartly and his workload needed to be looked after. That’s something Gautam emphasised as Russell has had injury-related problems previously,” the franchise official stated.

Not without any reason did keeper-batter Salt term Gambhir “an unbelievable cricket brain”.

The likes of Nitish Rana and Ramandeep Singh have also highlighted earlier how well Gambhir backs each and every player in the squad, including the youngsters, making all of them feel wanted. “Since his junior cricket days, Gautam has faced a lot of ups and downs. He never really had a smooth ride.

“It’s something that has made him more determined, while he also wants no cricketer in his team to be going through any kind of insecurity,” the official pointed out.

Role clarity

Ahead of this IPL season, Sunil Gavaskar, at a programme in Ranchi in February, had said the Knight Riders’ success would depend on how well mentor Gambhir and head coach Chandrakant Pandit gelled as a combination. Pandit, too, comes across as a strong character. But considering how KKR have performed so far, a possible ego clash between Gambhir and Pandit is the last thing one can think of.

“Yes, Gautam is more into strategising. He’s the one who usually sends the messages during strategic time-outs. As for Pandit, his main job is to look after all the domestic players and ensure no one is disgruntled in the dressing room.

“In other words, every member of the coaching staff is quite clear about the roles assigned to them,” another KKR insider said.

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