IPL 2024: How did Gautam Gambhir recreate the purple wave once again?

A new age T20 thinking; backing players to the hilt after assigning them roles is the key

KKR team members lift the IPL 2024 trophy in Chennai on 26 May (photo: PTI)
KKR team members lift the IPL 2024 trophy in Chennai on 26 May (photo: PTI)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The ruthlessness which Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) showed on their way to a third IPL title this season reminded one of the Mumbai Indians or Chennai Super Kings in their glory days. If in 2012 and 2014, there was an element of the underdog story punching above their weight under the then captain Gautam Gambhir – there was an emphatic ring about it this time under his mentorship which made it so special.

Just ponder this: in 16 matches in all this season including the two knockout ones, the Knights have lost just three matches while they had to split points in two games due to rain-forced abandonments. In a largely forgettable past decade for them (despite making the final once in 2021), there have been occasions when they have missed out on the playoffs due to the ifs and buts, but the early momentum they set this year ensured nothing could really deter them from a top-two finish.           

 Needless to add Gambhir, the first person in the history of IPL to win the trophy both as a captain and mentor, is being hailed as the man with the Midas touch. It’s been three back-to-back seasons that his teams have made the playoffs now (with KKR   becoming a champion and the new entrants Lucknow Super Giants were runners-up on debut in 2022). There is no gainsaying that it’s ultimately the players who execute the plans, but the question that begs to be asked is: what is it that ‘GG,’ as he is referred to, did differently with the same core of players who served in the past two years of the cycle?

It could be a subjective observation, but it seemed Gambhir wanted to invoke the spirit of his two heady years in 2012 and 2014 by keeping the faith in his old matchwinners Sunil Narine and Andre Russell. The Trinidadian mystery spinner, with whom Gambhir gambled by forming an unlikely opening pair with Phil Salt, paid rich dividends by scoring 488 runs and 17 wickets to emerge as the MVP (Most Valuable Player) for the third time after 2012 and 2018, respectively.

A major difference between KKR’s playing XIs this year and the last few seasons have been that the team management had assigned specific roles for each player and decided to stick with them through thick and thin. Now on his third season as an IPL mentor, Gambhir had realised that the introduction of an impact player has changed the game with new benchmarks being set in terms of targets – and hence this team would need more firepower lower down the order.

Once Narine started delivering with the bat in his gung-ho style, it created room for an additional power hitter in young Ramandeep Singh at No.7 with the likes of Rinku Singh and a fit and hungry Andre Russell above him. Gambhir had gone on record that he wanted to create a clone of Yusuf Pathan from his times in the current climate and the sturdy Ramandeep did not disappoint him in his limited outings.

 Meanwhile, much has been said and written about the way the two finalists: KKR and Sunrisers Hyderabad had broken banks to net the two big fishes – Mitchell Starc (at Rs 24.50 crores) and Pat Cummins (Rs 20.50 cr). Gambhir, who was given a carte blanche in the last mini auction in Dubai, was hugely instrumental in going for the decorated Aussie and the later repaid the faith with telling blows in both the qualifier and the final. The deliveries which got the dangerous Travis Head and Abhishek Sharma in the respective matches over the past week were simply a masterclass in swing bowling.    

With the help of hindsight, one can say that a head coach or mentor’s job becomes easy when the going is smooth – but this is where the role of Shreyas Iyer as captain has to be given its due. It was with quite a baggage that Shreyas entered the 2024 season – his central contracts gone, question mark over his integrity over the protracted back injury and ignored for the T20 World Cup despite being in prolific form in the 50-overs showpiece, the Mumbaikar did his job with quiet assurance.

 ‘’The hype is definitely created by you guys (media). Where I stand (as a skipper) is definitely on you (to decide),’’ the skipper replied in response to a media query if he felt overshadowed by Gambhir. However, the history of the franchise will show Shreyas is only the second KKR skipper after his mentor to have lifted the trophy!

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