Their contribution to India’s success is well documented. One was the best exponent of swing bowling for over a decade. The other was the top scorer in both the World Cup finals India won, in 2007 and 2011. But in an age when cricket is exploring itself every day, Zaheer Khan and Gautam Gambhir are not as in sync with international cricket as they may have liked to. Khan has already retired from international cricket. Gambhir, though not retired officially, hasn’t played for India since August, 2014.
International relevance isn’t a prerequisite for franchise league cricket. Otherwise Kevin Pietersen wouldn’t have been scooped up by Pune for `3.5 crore. But as a freelancer, Pietersen has kept himself in the loop by playing in different leagues throughout the year. Khan and Gambhir haven’t had that luxury. While Gambhir at least had some form of workout till January in domestic cricket, Khan’s last outing was in the previous IPL.
New KKR coach Jacques Kallis doesn’t think lack of current international experience will be a factor. “Sometimes, coming in fresh and after a break is good. I see it as a positive,” said Kallis on Thursday.
Gambhir has looked to spend as much time as possible in the nets. One of the fiercest competitors ever, he likes to set the tempo as quickly as possible. Last season he kicked off with back-to-back fifties to exorcise the ghosts of 2014 where he had a string of ducks to his name. But attuning to the requirements of an evolving format will get more difficult with every passing year.
Gambhir, in fact, was miffed when asked if he was looking at the IPL for a ticket to the India team. “I say this every year that I look at the IPL only to win it, not at how it can help me get back to the India team. My job is to win the IPL for KKR. To play for India or to get selected is something that will happen if it has to,” he said.
By sticking to a combination forged in 2011 when Gambhir used to open for India, KKR are clearly not adhering to the need of leading with a cricketer whose international stocks are still high. Delhi too are leaning that way, only with a team that seems to be in a constant flux. How quickly the two erstwhile pillars of Indian cricket come out of their layoff will go a long way in deciding the fate of the teams they lead. That journey starts by checking each others’ pulses on Sunday.