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IPL 2024: Can Gautam Gambhir help spark a KKR renaissance?

IPL 2024: No one is more qualified to mentor KKR but also crucial is the working relationship Gautam Gambhir forges with coach Chandrakant Pandit

There exists a school of thought that Gautam Gambhir is the best captain India never had. Another pins him, and not Virat Kohli, as the original uber-aggressive Indian. If that six in the World Cup final launched MS Dhoni into the orbit of cricket immortality, it probably also played a part in pushing Gambhir’s 91 into the shadows. Also, how many remember Gambhir’s 75 in the 2007 T20 World Cup final over Joginder Sharma’s eventful over? His wasn’t one of those long enduring careers with flourishing pit stops and a memorable exit, but it shouldn’t blind us to the grit and pluck Gambhir introduced to the game.

Gautam Gambhir with KKR’s two IPL trophies(KKR)

Also, the winning mentality. Scroll through the heights Kolkata Knight Riders scaled when Gambhir was in charge from 2011 to 2017—making the playoffs five times, going all the way twice to win the title apart from reaching the Champions League T20 final in 2014. So, when the SOS reached him, Gambhir couldn’t turn down KKR’s request to become mentor.

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“I am not an emotional person and not many things move me. But this is different,” Gambhir had said just after joining KKR. “This is back to where it all started. Today, there is a lump in my throat and fire in my heart as I think about slipping into that purple and gold jersey once again.”

Not just great finishes, everything that resonated with the brand KKR was carefully curated and chiselled to perfection by Gambhir. Sunil Narine became Sunil Narine under him. Only because of Gambhir did KKR invest in Andre Russell when no one was willing to spend a dime on him.

Nowhere apart from Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings did Indians assume so much responsibility. Without Gambhir’s foresight, Suryakumar Yadav wouldn’t have become the polished diamond that he is now. Piyush Chawla added a few more years to his career, Robin Uthappa reinvented his game and Manish Pandey was shaping up to be a reliable finisher. More importantly, Eden Gardens had grown into a fortress as Gambhir made a habit of winning low-scoring thrillers with spinners on dry turners prepared at his behest.

Everything that Gambhir had created as a way of legacy has disintegrated in the years since he left. Now that he is back, will KKR successfully press the reset button? The Indian core of Nitish Rana, Rinku Singh, Venkatesh Iyer and Varun Chakaravarthy still looks promising. But a lingering complaint has been how some of the Indian talent hasn’t been utilised properly, that too much tinkering didn’t allow KKR to find their right combination. With Gambhir at the helm, that’s expected to be solved at the earliest. The players too seem to know what to expect. “Whatever conversations I’ve had with him in the past, he has always talked about creating an impact for the team’s goals rather than personal milestones,” Venkatesh told KKR in an interview.

But this, mind you, is Gambhir 3.0. Having made a good fist of his day-time job of being a legislator while mentoring Lucknow Super Giants to two successive playoff finishes, Gambhir leaving politics to focus on KKR can mean one and only one thing—nothing else but what he thinks would matter.

So, it becomes all the more important for Shreyas Iyer that Gambhir takes interest in his philosophy of leadership. Which, honestly, isn’t exactly well-known because Shreyas had to give the entire 2023 IPL a miss because of a back surgery. Out of a central contract, with no great immediate IPL season to fall back on either, and the back pain rearing up once again in the Ranji Trophy final—it can’t get more complicated for both Shreyas and Gambhir.

Crucial, hence, is how Gambhir warms up to KKR coach Chandrakant Pandit. Despite his experience and success at the Ranji level, Pandit is still new to this world. And that not everything was hunky dory with the Rana-Pandit combination last year was visible in the way KKR had slumped to six losses in 10 games. Doesn’t take long to realise Gambhir was basically the last resort for KKR.

This is where it could get tricky. Both Pandit and Gambhir are known to be brutally honest in the dressing rooms, both can crack the whip. But so short is the IPL that any blurry lines between job descriptions could manifest itself into onfield shortcomings.

“Both Gambhir and Pandit are strong personalities and the interaction they would have would be the key to KKR’s performance,” Sunil Gavaskar had said during an IPL event at Ranchi recently. “The combination they both will make is going to be very crucial. If they click then KKR can become a very, very strong contender for the title.” It’s a big ‘if’, but not much if Gambhir and Pandit work as one.


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