IPL Diary: Opening with Baz was real fun, says KKR mentor Gautam Gambhir

Two-time title winning captain opens up in an emotional meet-and-greet with fans

Gautam Gambhir meets a KKR fan of their last home game (photo courtesy: KKR)
Gautam Gambhir meets a KKR fan of their last home game (photo courtesy: KKR)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The spring in the step of Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) fans is back and much as they would like to thank the consistency of Shreyas Iyer & Co, the return of Gautam Gambhir in mentor’s avatar is believed to have added the X-factor. It was hence an opportunity for them to show their gratitude as the franchise hosted a meet-and-greet session with the former captain at the team hotel on the eve of their last home game against Mumbai Indians on Saturday, 11 May.

If Harshul Goenka, the wheelchair-bound autism patient and a diehard KKR fan for over the past decade hogged the spotlight, there were others whose heartfelt gestures and souvenirs moved the normally laconic Gambhir to no end. ‘’KKR is an emotion and you guys have created this aura about the franchise. The amount of love that I received from the fans right from the time I joined them as captain in 2011 has been unbelievable,’’ said Gambhir, who led the team to both their trophies in 2012 and 2014.     

It’s been exactly a decade since their last triumph and despite the Knights having a runners-up finish in the UAE in 2021, the fans at the team hotel felt the third title is around the corner now that the lucky mascot is back. Such expectations can be sometimes scary, but the two-time World Cup winner played along the optimistic lines.

Asked which of the roles of being a captain or a mentor is tougher, pat came the reply ‘’Being a mentor is far more challenging as one can control only that much from the dugout. As a captain, you are in charge of the execution.’’

Given that he had opened the innings with a number of stalwart batters for KKR like Brendon McCullum and Robin Uthappa, who would rate as his favourite partner? ‘’It’s a tough one but I think opening with Baz was really fun. However, it’s a pity that I could not fit him into the playing XI in the 2012 final because of the team combination. Sometimes, you have to take such tough decisions for the team,’’ said Gambhir.

There were some inevitable questions from fans about any superstition that he may have nursed during his playing career, and Gambhir gave a peek into this often unexplored facet of his personality. ‘’See, I was never a great believer in numbers. However, in 2014, we had a dismal start to the season as we lost a number of matches on the trot and I was not getting runs. This is when Robin told me to change my shirt number from five to 23 and I willy-nilly accepted the idea. And yes, I started getting runs after that,’’ he recalled with a smile.  

Call it over the top if you will, but the loyalty of KKR’s countless fans towards their most successful captain is bound to touch a chord. A male fan, in his forties, sang a few lines from a famous regional folk number: ‘Tomay hrid majhare rakhibo, chhere debo na’ (We will keep you in our hearts and never let you go’ before he broke down in tears.

The reference to parting came as Gambhir was not retained ahead of the 2018 auction – but then as one knows – it’s par for the course in franchise cricket.   

His famous chemistry with Sunil Narine, who had been contributing with both bat and ball this season, also came up for discussion. ‘’My relationship with Narine goes back to 2012 when he joined the franchise. Like me, he was also a very shy guy and I have seen his struggles. To me, he is one of the greatest all-time bowlers in IPL history and is contributing with the bat as well this time,’’ Gambhir added.

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