IPL 2024: Enter Gautam Gambhir in mentor’s avatar with the Knights

KKR’s most successful captain wants to infuse team-first ethos of playing days

Gautam Gambhir at Eden Gardens on 15 March (photo courtesy: KKR)
Gautam Gambhir at Eden Gardens on 15 March (photo courtesy: KKR)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It’s not everyday that a team mentor gets a rockstar treatment in IPL, but it’s different with Gautam Gambhir. The former captain, who led KKR (Kolkata Knight Riders) to two titles and five play-offs during his seven-year stay with the franchise between 2011 and 2017, was clearly the man of the moment when the Purple Army got down to business at the Eden Gardens on Friday, 15 March.

‘’KKR is not a franchise for me, it’s an emotion,’’ said the laconic former Indian opener, who of late relinquished his political role with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after serving a five-year term as the MP in East Delhi. The last two IPL seasons had seen him wearing many a hat as the politician, mentor of new franchise Lucknow Super Giants and a TV pundit but for now, he is back to where he belonged.

Not surprisingly, many a eyebrows were raised when news broke late in 2023 that Gambhir will be back with the Knights as a mentor. Their parting ahead of the 2018 auction was, after all, not a pleasant one when KKR decided to release their most successful captain alongwith a host of other players – installing Dinesh Karthik as the new captain. The move had hurt Gambhir badly as by all accounts, he had grown used to the sight and sounds of Kolkata and was making plans to buy a home in the city.

Nearly seven years down the line, the KKR management (read: Shah Rukh Khan) managed to convince him to take charge as an umbrella head – a position akin to Mahela Jayasuriya in Mumbai Indians or a Kumar Sangakkara in Rajasthan Royals. It’s going to be exactly a decade that KKR had last won the trophy in 2014 and despite their come-from-behind finish as runners-up in 2021, their campaigns had often ended in an anti-climax. After the initial hype is over, it will be all about reproducing his winning touch as a player and Gambhir is only be too aware of that.

‘’Gautam has always been a part of the family and this is our captain coming back home in a different avatar as a mentor. He was sorely missed and we look forward to Chandu sir and Gautam in instilling the never-say-die spirit and of sportsmanship they stand for in creating magic with Team KKR,’’ SRK had said on announcement of his appointment.

Setting an upbeat note in the team’s opening session, the two-time World Cup champion was keen to re-introduce his team-comes-first philosophy. ‘’There will be no junior, senior or international and non-international players for me – all will be treated equally. There will be complete freedom for all players, ask question, enjoy yourself but give it all you have got,’’ Gambhir told an assembly of largely Indian players.

In exactly a week’s time, the Knights will open their campaign against Sunrisers Hyderabad at home on 23 March – the only match they play at home in the first two weeks before they hit the road. A winning start is what the mentor will be hoping for desperately!

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