Dear Gambhir, why sulk?
Kolkata's revival has to begin with Gautam Gambhir. Not just his batting and management of resources, but with his attitude in the dug out.
Let me get the positives out first. Gautam Gambhir, the man who was in line for captaincy of the Indian national team but not anymore, cares about his and his team’s performance in the IPL. IPL is made out to be a big tamasha – cricketainment – and to a large extent it can be, with the cheerleaders, fancy uniforms, loud fans, louder PA system, Bollywood stars dotting the sidelines and parties etc.
With the Kolkata Knight Riders chasing a tall score of 165 and three of their top guns – Jacques Kallis, Brendon McCullum and Gambhir himself – out within the powerplay overs against the Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur, it seemed like an impossible task for them, and so it turned out to be. Whenever the camera panned out to the KKR dugout, the look on Gambhir’s face was that of someone at a funeral. It is unmistakable that the KKR fragile batting performance is hurting him. He is to be commended for the fact that even losses in a supposed mickey mouse cricket tournament get to him. It shows he cares.
By the same token, what sort of attitude is that to have as a captain - to be grumpy and sulking in the dugout in full view of your teammates? The game was still in progress and T20s turn on their head in just a matter of couple of overs. It doesn’t always take a big name hitter to do it either. As we saw during the Champions League T20 tournament last year, Mumbai Indians chased the big score of Chennai Super Kings from a hopeless situation with just tailenders at the crease. Mumbai were 63-5 chasing 159 and got there with a ball to spare with contributions mainly from Lasith Malinga, Harbhajan Singh and R Satish.
If you are batsman sitting in the dugout waiting for your turn to come in and give your team a chance, and you see your captain sitting alongside brooding, it doesn’t really inspire confidence, does it? Gambhir is a fairly combative character as we have seen in the international arena, giving lip (and elbow and shoulder) to the opposition but this version of Gambhir is not doing his team any favors.
Even with the abysmal output from the top three star batsmen (and Yusuf Pathan), Kolkata finished only 22 runs short of the Rajasthan total. That man, the serial bencher with the Indian national team, Manoj Tiwary hung in till the end to get a very well composed 59 and with a little bit more support from the other end, may have even pulled off the heist.
Another aspect that Gambhir is falling short on is the team combination and the batting order. Sure, Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Rajat Bhatia may be “all rounders” but Brett Lee is in some sort of form, scoring belligerent, counter-attacking 50 in the Caribbean and he showed again in this match, with his 25 of just 11 deliveries with two 6’s and two 4’s. You have an outstanding allrounder in Shakib Al Hasan sitting on the bench while Sunil Narine, as good as he might be in the T20 format, is given a go.
It is still early days in IPL V. Kolkata can very well make quite a comeback in the tournament, get on a roll and reel off victories and do justice to the talent they have stacked up in their squad. But it has to begin with Gautam Gambhir. Not just his batting and management of resources, but with his attitude in the dug out. He needs to show the team they are never out of it and needs to instill that belief in the team but first, he has to believe it and then, show it for others to follow.
About the author: Subash is a cricket blogger and podcaster based in the US. His introduction to Cricket began with enduring sledges from his elder brothers during their many backyard cricket sessions. He supports Chennai Super Kings in the IPL. He blogs at http://thecricketcouch.com and can be found on Twitter @thecricketcouch.
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