Kolkata Knight Riders captain Gautam Gambhir during net for sixth edition of IPL 2013 at Eden Gardens, Kolkata. HT Photo/Ashok Nath Dey
Had it not been for the sudden scurry among the photographers, it would have been impossible to know that Gautam Gambhir had arrived at the Eden. On another day Gambhir would have been ushered in with choruses from fans, grateful to him for bringing the city back to the country's cricket map.
Instead, there was a palpable nervous energy in the Kolkata Knight Riders' camp, concerned how their captain will fare and whether they can do a double like the Chennai Super Kings. Despite Gambhir's well-known philosophy of 'cricket being a team game and not about individuals', he knows both go hand in hand.
Gambhir enters the fray with an Everest of expectations that has stemmed from being the highest scorer for his team and the second highest overall last year with 590 runs.
He comes on the back of a morale-boosting 54-ball 68 against Punjab in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, but a bout of jaundice meant he couldn't improve on that start. Before that was a string of failures --- 5 against Assam in the Vijay Hazare Trophy final that Delhi won and 9 against both Central and West Zone in the Deodhar Trophy. But he had also scored a century for India A against Australia after being dropped from the India squad.
Gambhir sets high standards for himself. Anything less isn't acceptable. Gambhir was among the firsts to bat at the nets on Sunday and the last to leave as well. He was not really struggling but this was definitely a toned down version of Gambhir. That trademark stepping-out was missing. So was the aggression.
With Trevor Bayliss by his side, there was a conscious effort from Gambhir to work on getting his stance correct and pick the right balls to cut or drive. There were still some nicks flying around but Gambhir continued to focus on middling the ball.
State-mate Rajat Bhatia, who was seen bowling to him for a long spell, said Gambhir hadn't lost his touch. “I think Gautam is in good shape. There are some batsmen who I find difficult to bowl to and he is one of them.
“The fact that Gautam is a left-hander makes it more difficult,” he said. Apart from Eoin Morgan, Gambhir is the only left-handed top-order batsman in the team. But if all the top choices are available, Morgan might have to sit out again like in the last edition. That makes Gambhir's role even more important.
Bhatia, however, isn't worried. According to him, Gambhir has started putting more hours in the nets after being dropped from the Test team. “His concentration has definitely increased since that day. Gambhir is working harder now.”