What Gautam Gambhir brings to the table for India - Hindustan Times
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What Gautam Gambhir brings to the table for India

Jul 10, 2024 12:05 PM IST

Shrewd tactician, wonderful with young players, Gambhir could be the perfect man to build on India’s World Cup win

When he was captain of Kolkata Knight Riders, Gautam Gambhir had once asked then team director Joy Bhattacharjya to bring a young spinner from Punjab. Raw and talented, he also had a history of substance abuse, and Gambhir wanted to get him out of it. He tried hard but didn’t last more than a week at KKR. “Year and a half later, I met that kid while going to watch a KKR game in Delhi. Gautam had given him a job, helping him to rehabilitate, and he was happy to do so,” said Bhattacharjya. “That’s the thing with Gautam. He doesn’t give up on you.”

Indian team's head coach(X Image)
Indian team's head coach(X Image)

Expect nothing less from Gautam Gambhir as he takes over the reins of India coach. If he trusts a player, values his skills, knows he has a role to play, Gambhir will back him to the hilt. Every KKR player, younger ones especially, will vouch for it.

Not one to take a step back, expect Gambhir to take a cue from his successful stints as mentor—helping Lucknow Super Giants qualify for the playoffs in both seasons before guiding KKR to the IPL win this year—and not compromise on India’s bowling depth in white-ball formats.

Also Read: Gautam Gambhir, ‘second wall of Indian cricket’ succeeds the OG, Rahul Dravid: What lies ahead for Indian cricket

Backing it up would be that no-nonsense ‘team-before-individuals’ attitude that should keep India on their toes after the highs of winning the T20 World Cup.

A team in transition too, following the T20I retirements of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja. With the Test team set to be tinkered as well, given R Ashwin and Mohammed Shami are nearing the end of their careers, Gambhir has quite a job to do but Bhattacharjya says he has his ears to the ground for a long time now.

“He was following domestic cricket even when he was playing at KKR and not so much international cricket,” said Bhattacharjya. “He follows players, and is a very shrewd tactician. He considers playing for India the greatest honour possible. And therefore, he will be very focused on making sure players follow that because he is really, really passionate about India and the Tricolour."

Gambhir hates to lose. And a general inference drawn from Gambhir’s appointment is that he will do with this Indian team whatever he had done at LSG and KKR. But getting into the knockouts or finals hasn’t been a problem for India anyway.

Where Bhattacharjya feels Gambhir will make a real difference is in developing the youth core of the team. “He is wonderful with young players,” said Bhattacharjya. “He understands their skills, how to adapt them. That one growth you will definitely see here. For people like Rohit and Virat, they just need a little bit of guidance. For the rest he can actually help mould their careers.”

But with a touch of pragmatism. Gambhir is old-school, hard to be impressed. Not one to be swayed by gimmickry, Gambhir demands a robust exhibition of skills in sync with the conditions, a point he repeatedly made during a podcast on R Ashwin’s Youtube channel during this IPL.

"Everyone gets excited if someone is bowling 150 clicks,” he said. “The point is you need to look at the conditions as well. Going forward in T20 cricket, the average and runs will have no impact. It is the strike rate, when you select a batter, and when you have to select a bowler, it is the kind of tough overs he can bowl. That will be the discussion that will happen in the next two or three years.

“Sometimes when you go in conditions like West Indies or Bangladesh, you don't need someone bowling 150. You need someone who bowls cutters as well. That is where the vision lies with the selectors. Sometimes you pick raw talent. But creating so much hype after two or three games, we need to have a balanced approach.”

Renewed focus on first-class cricket could be one of the takeaways of the appointment of Gambhir who firmly believes there can be no shortcut in selection.

“India's T20I side should be selected from the IPL,” Gambhir had told Ashwin. "For 50-over format, it should be selected from Vijay Hazare, and your Test side should be selected from your first-class cricket, red-ball cricket. As simple as that. If you start selecting people for 50-over format or red-ball cricket from an IPL competition, you are making a lot of shortcuts for a lot of these young players to not focus on red-ball cricket or 50-overs format, and you are walking on the edge."

It goes unsaid how Gambhir will still have at his disposal a fantastic team despite the T20I retirements of Kohli, Sharma and Jadeja. With the Champions Trophy to go, and another year left in the World Test Championship cycle, Gambhir has enough time to make an immediate impact in the longer formats.

But Gambhir’s legacy could be defined by the way he makes the team rise above individuals. Top-scorer at both the 2007 and 2011 World Cup finals, one of the shrewdest brains in the IPL, no one has had a sweatier path to the top than Gambhir.

Expect Gambhir to make players go through the grind but protect them as well. Now that the World Cup has been won, India have a more complicated job of maintaining that standard. Few have done it as well as Gambhir.

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