Gautam Gambhir: Kolkata's Knight With a Purpose

Arnab Sen | Updated: May 18, 2017, 3:47 PM IST
Gautam Gambhir: Kolkata's Knight With a Purpose

BCCI Photo

Kolkata Knight Riders had all the glamour and glitz associated with them from the very first season of the Indian Premier League. And why not, when you have an energetic owner like Shah Rukh Khan, emotionally involved with the team, you can expect a lot of glamour and razzmatazz off the pitch.

But on the field, KKR's fortunes weren't as bright and glowing. The uneasy relationship between skipper Sourav Ganguly and yet another Australian coach, John Buchanan, and some underwhelming performances on the field meant Kolkata failed to move past the group stages in the first two seasons, also finishing the second season at the bottom of the league table.

Dav Whatmore was brought in as coach in the third season but the fortunes of the team didn't change. Finally the owners took the big decision of not retaining Ganguly in the fourth season and instead brought in another left-hander to take over the reins of the team. Gautam Gambhir had been one half of a successful opening pair for Delhi Daredevils, along with Virender Sehwag in the first three seasons, but two semi-final losses meant he too was as hungry for success in the IPL as Kolkata were.

The Knights made substantial changes in their personnel in the fourth season and the results were there to be seen. Gambhir's aggressive and direct approach as captain meant the results started going Kolkata's way and the team qualified for the play-offs for the first time in 2011. Kolkata lost the eliminator to Mumbai Indians but the freshness in attitude was there to be seen for everyone.

Gambhir himself scored 378 runs and was his team's second highest run-getter.

But the southpaw came into his own in the 2012 season as he led Kolkata's batting from the front. Gambhir scored 590 runs to finish as the league's second highest run-getter behind Chris Gayle.

His efforts propelled KKR to their highest ever finish on the points table, as they ended runners-up to Delhi Daredevils. But the Knights put in a great show in the qualifier to pip Delhi and moved straight into the final. But the summit clash at fortress Chepauk, against MS Dhoni's two-time defending champions seemed like a bridge too far to cross for the Kolkata franchise as they had the daunting task of chasing 190 in a pressure cooker final.

Gambhir departed early but little-known Manvinder Bisla decided to make the stage his own as he played perhaps the most significant knock of his cricketing career. A counter-attacking 89 that lifted KKR to their first ever IPL title. Gambhir had fulfilled the promise he had made to his new owners and to himself.

2013 was a difficult year for Gambhir as he lost his place in the Indian Test team. His ODI form too was iffy and the southpaw's future with the Indian team was in serious doubt. But Gambhir shrugged off the disappointment and came out all guns blazing for the Knight Riders in the IPL.

He finished as his team's highest run-getter with 406 runs but the effort wasn't enough to inspire KKR and the defending champions missed out on the play-offs.

By the time the 2014 season started, Gambhir's international career was in doldrums as he found himself out of the Indian team from all formats. And thus the importance of IPL increased for the southpaw.

Gambhir empowered youngsters and they responded, Robin Uthappa finished as the league's highest run-getter while Manish Pandey impressed too. Umesh Yadav too found his mojo and the Knight Riders finished second in the league. They pipped leaders Kings IX Punjab in the qualifier to head straight into the final.

Kings XI Punjab were the team of the season and when they posted 199 in the final, it seemed like game set match for the underachievers of IPL. But just like Bisla in 2012, it was another KKR batsman who rose to the occasion. Manish Pandey hit a heroic 94 in just 50 deliveries, under pressure, to take Kolkata Knight Riders to their second title in three years and the Gambhir effect was well and truly there for everyone to see.

The next season saw KKR fizzle out again but they resurfaced in the play-offs again in 2016 only to lose to eventual champions Sunrisers Hyderabad in the eliminator.

So, when the two teams met at the same stage again this season, the stakes were high for Gambhir. The bowlers did all the good work by restricting Sunrisers to below par total of 128, but torrential rains in Bengaluru meant the Kolkata camp was left with prayers on their lips as an abandonment would have seen the Sunrisers progress by virtue of their higher finish in the league phase.

But the match resumed and KKR were given a revised target of 48 runs to chase in 6 overs. The pitch wasn't the easiest and that became amply clear when the Sunrisers reduced KKR to 12/3. The defending champions had a belief, but so did the opposition captain.

Gautam Gambhir used all his experience and craft to score an unbeaten 32 off 19 balls to take KKR through to the qualifier 2. His calculated attack on Siddarth Kaul in the fourth over was reminiscent of Gambhir's golden days for the Indian cricket team, when he produced match-winning knocks in difficult situations by keeping a calm head on his shoulders.

Joginder Sharma and MS Dhoni stole the accolades and spotlight for India's two big global triumphs during the 2007 WT20 and the 2011 ICC World Cup respectively. But the man who built the foundation for both these wins was Gautam Gambhir. The Delhi boy's knocks of 75 against Pakistan in 2007 and the all important 97 against Sri Lanka at the Wankhede are the two most underrated gems in Indian cricket history.

Two knocks which are so similar to Gambhir's understated personality. Two knocks which keep reminding us of his brilliance and give us hope that we could see his refined stroke play in India colours once again. As the cliche goes, form is temporary but class is permanent.

First Published: May 18, 2017, 2:14 PM IST

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