When Gautam Gambhir swapped the red-and-blue of Delhi Daredevils to the gold and violet of Kolkata Knight Riders, there was as much reassurance as apprehension. While his perceived leadership qualities were assuring the disquiet within the dressing room was jeopardous. Moreover, he was to replace their most celebrated cricketing icon and inherit an underwhelming bunch of precocious but distracted individuals.
By his admission an insecure fatalist, Gambhir might have mulled over twice before accepting the anchorship of a flaming deck. Then 2011 was different, the environs were conducive for Gambhir the batsman to upgrade his portfolio to Gambhir the skipper.
At 29, and at the peak of his robust prowess, the world was a battle to be conquered. And he ventured into the prevailing catastrophe, and promptly reposed the faith of his loyal and won over his skeptics, as Kolkata for the first time positioned in the top four, as opposed to the usual nether end, though it could have been further better but for one doomful Balaji over against Mumbai Indians, which denied them second spot, shoving them to the eliminator.
A year later, his productivity creaked, he plunged into openers’ most dreaded outside-the-off-stump indiscretion malice. Still, he inspired Kolkata to their most memorable night, upsurging two-time champions Chennai Super Kings in Chennai. Gambhir was their tour de force, the clout of his bat (590 runs in 17 innings) weighing as prominently as his strategising enterprise.
At best, he was assertive and slick, fertile-minded and mentally indestructible. If there was a lack of intuition or instinct about his tactics, then it has to be remembered that captaincy is also consultative. He infused a sense of ruthlessness, enabling them to close in on needle-edged contests, as opposed to the nervous wrecks of the past. From disorder, he created an order. Soon, he was the frontrunner to replace MS Dhoni, whose captaincy was taking a stick in England and Australia.
He would have likely replaced the incumbent but for his own vagaries with bat — cracks had appeared in a remarkably resilient mentality and his repeated failure to convert decent starts into hundreds as he once did so voraciously was telling. Invariably, he was ousted from the Test squad.
Hence, as the IPL-to-IPL circle comes full, wherein Gambhir would brace to re-assert his captaincy mettle and resurrect his international career, defending the title would be like a redemptive palliative.
The team was rather subdued in the auction, and they needn’t have been otherwise, for they have depth and quality in every facet, a surplus of choice as far all-rounders are concerned. The key again could be Sunil Narine, and how far he can spin a web of mystery. As could be James Pattinson, whose biggest challenge would be sustaining his fitness. But the enforcer is still Gambhir, as he ventures his team to the unfamiliar terrain of title retention while battling his own demons of form.