The Gautam Gambhir way of captaincy: How did he become one of the most successful captains in the IPL?

One of the biggest learnings highlighted by the IPL is the fact that there are many captains who haven’t captained their country regularly but are excellent at this job. Captains like Rohit Sharma, Shane Warne, David Warner, Adam Gilchrist and Gautam Gambhir are the shining examples of this fact.

Kolkata Knight Riders got all the heads turning when it ditched its most popular player, Sourav Ganguly, in the auctions for the 2011 squad and picked Gautam Gambhir, the man with little captaincy experience as the captain. This was at that time when the national squad was being led by the ‘Captain Cool’ MS Dhoni, and Gambhir was anything, but that. He was the fiery one with temper issues.

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And the impact that Gambhir had on the team is evident till now, even 3 years after him leaving the squad. And Gambhir shared three qualities with the most successful captains in the history of cricket which were a major reason for his success as a captain in the IPL:

Gave every player recognition, as Ricky Ponting did:

The reason why many players shone under Ricky Ponting was that he always recognised every little contribution of his teammates. And Gambhir shared this quality with Ponting.

Some of Gambhir’s most famous knocks was his performances in the finals of the 2007 T20 World Cup and the 2011 World Cup. Both these times, he never won the ‘Man of the Match’ award and at that time, never received the deserved appreciation. So, the very first time he stepped into the KKR dressing room, addressing the players, he said,

I will make sure that every little contribution of yours will be appreciated. Every run scored, every run saved and every wicket taken will get recognition.

And he stood true to his words. In a game against CSK, when 16 runs were needed in 12 balls for KKR, Debabrata Das won the match for KKR by scoring 11 runs off 4 balls. Later that day, when Gambhir was awarded the Man of the Match for his gutsy knock of 63 runs in 52 balls, he went up on the podium and said,

My Man of the Match is Debabrata Das. To be honest, it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish.

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Debabrata Das considers Gautam Gambhir as his mentor

That was the kind of captain he was, he never failed to acknowledge the lesser-known players.

Backed his players, as Sourav Ganguly did:

Gambhir backed his players to death. A KKR official once went on to say,

If you are standing with Gautam, you are never standing alone. He will take a bullet for you if you are his teammate.

Back in 2011, KKR’s bowler Lakshmipathy Balaji came under fire after conceding 23 runs in the final over against Mumbai Indians, in a match which KKR lost. In the team bus next day, Gambhir noticed a usually smiling-faced Balaji looking dejected, and he went and sat beside him. A teary-eyed Balaji said, “Sorry! You can drop me from the team the next match if you want.” But Gambhir didn’t speak a word. Balaji’s performance didn’t improve much that season. Even the team management wanted to release Balaji from the squad that season, but Gambhir kept backing him.

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Balaji went on to become the bowling coach and mentor for KKR in the later seasons.

The next year, in 2012, Balaji stunned everyone with his bowling. He picked up 11 wickets in 8 games with an impressive economy of 5.43, before sitting out due to injury. KKR won that season, and post the Finals, Gambhir said,

Bala is the unsung hero, he’s been brilliant all through. We were playing for him. Missing such an important game in front of his home crowd was always disappointing, but it was very satisfying winning it for him.

That was the kind of captain he was, he was ready to take a bullet for his team.

Had unique roles for his players, like MS Dhoni did:

Gambhir had unique roles for every player. It is a known fact that Jacques Kallis batted a lot for KKR in the top-order. But his role was more than that. Every time he came to bat, he was asked to bat for at least 3 balls. Once Kallis played these 3 balls, given his vast experience, he could judge the pitch to see what it had for the batsmen. So, he would go out and tell his team the number of runs that could be scored on this pitch. As soon as he returned to the dugout, he’d shout, “This is a 170-run pitch”, or “This is a 150-run pitch.” Kallis was the score-estimator for KKR.

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Jacques Kallis played 4 seasons for KKR as an all-rounder

An Indian cricket fan knows that Rajat Bhatia would go on as one of the finest players in Indian domestic cricket history, and even Gambhir knew that. Given his vast experience of playing dozens of matches in pitches across India, Bhatia knew which pitch had what to offer for the batsmen or the bowlers. So, ahead of every match, Gambhir and Bhatia would inspect the pitch and Bhatia would suggest what should the ideal playing XI for KKR be in that match. Bhatia was the pitch-predictor for KKR.

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Rajat Bhatia has loads of domestic cricket experience

Noticing the pinch-hitter Sunil Narine is, he promoted Narine as the opener in the squad. This was a move used limitedly by Aaron Finch in BBL, but Gambhir backed Narine, the batsman a lot. And now, Narine is considered an all-rounder.

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KKR has since used Sunil Narine as a pinch-hitting all-rounder.

Similarly, Gambhir knew what capability every player in the squad had, and he used it to the fullest.

That was the kind of captain he was, he knew what every player of his team was good at.

Under Gambhir’s captaincy, KKR won the IPL twice and qualified for the playoffs thrice. That was the testimony to his captaincy.

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