Celebrity coach Gautam Gambhir needs to play more of a backroom boy

BCCI has reportedly agreed to all his demands, it’s now the former MP’s turn to deliver

Chief coach of the Indian cricket team Gautam Gambhir (photo: ICC)
Chief coach of the Indian cricket team Gautam Gambhir (photo: ICC)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The hype and hoopla over the appointment of Gautam Gambhir as the chief coach of the Indian cricket team has been rather unprecedented – despite many a big name occupying the hot seat in the past. The biggest fallout of these, of course, are the great expectations but more of that later.

It had been possibly the worst-kept secret on part of BCCI which had released an ad for the position just ahead of the T20 World Cup but eventually, turned out to be a mockery of the so called selection process. All along, the two-time World Cup winner and the man with the Midas touch in IPL was the only candidate whom the Indian board courted – even though the name of W.V. Raman, a heavyweight and former national women’s team coach, was added later to give the impression of a process being in place.

No doubt, it’s now a honeymoon period between the powers that be and Gambhir, who had resigned from his position as the BJP MP from East Delhi just on the eve of IPL. There are unconfirmed media reports surfacing virtually every day about Gambhir’s demands – from his pay package, insistence of a support team of his choice and having different teams for three formats. If that’s not enough, ‘GG’ as he is nicknamed, has a mandate of outlining a blueprint to plan without the likes of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja in white ball format after the 2025 ICC Champions Trophy.   

The chief coach’s insistence on bringing his own men as the key support staff is nothing new though, and Gambhir’s choice of Abhishek Nayar as assistant coach and former international Vinay Kumar as the bowling coach suggests he wants men with low profile but a insiders’ knowledge of Indian cricket’s ecosystem. So far, so good but there seems to be a simply a lot in the in-tray of the erstwhile Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) mentor in his three-year term.

It's a critical juncture for Indian cricket that Gambhir is coming in for he has to balance between the team goals – which is supposed to win each and every game across formats – as well as overseeing a period of transition.

He will have the big shoes of predecessor Rahul Dravid to fill in as the team made the final of the ICC events in all three formats over the past year – the ICC World Test Championship, the 50-overs World Cup and the T20 World Cup. Gambhir’s first major challenge in the ODI format will be the ICC Champions Trophy early next year but before that, Rohit Sharma & Co will be visiting Down Under for a five-Test series at the year-end.

 After two successful Australia tours since 2018, the team will be eyeing another series victory, but Pat Cummins’ side has proved to be a thorn in their side in recent times. The series will hence present Gambhir’s sternest test this WTC cycle.

 Despite Gambhir’s role in 2011 World Cup triumph as well as a good Test record abroad, it will be no exaggeration to say Gambhir’s understanding of the dynamics of the T20 format remains his biggest strength. His experience as a coach or mentor is restricted to the IPL only for the past three years as Gambhir was primarily engaged as an MP and TV pundit for the last five years – though this does lessen the value that he brings to the table.    

Finally, a word of caution here. A common trait behind the most successful Indian coaches in the last two decades (John Wright, Gary Kirsten and Rahul Dravid) has been their ability to manage superegos, earn respect and work essentially as a backroom boy. Ravi Shastri was an extrovert alright, but he turned out to be a fine man manager and played his part in bringing about a thaw in the relationship between the Big Two.

Gambhir, on the other hand, comes in with an aura of a celebrity coach. The former Indian opener’s giant cutouts in KKR banners in Kolkata during the 2024 IPL were often bigger than the captain or some of their star players, but it’s a different ballgame when you have a billion dreams riding on your shoulders!  

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