THE GAMBHIR SUCCESS MANTRA

To be or not to be is NOT the question

Gautam Gambhir may not have past coaching experience, but comes with a rich CV of wide success
Gautam Gambhir may not have past coaching experience, but comes with a rich CV of wide success ©Sportzpics

Venky Mysore, the erudite and experienced CEO of Kolkata Knight Riders, has a unique way of describing Gautam Gambhir, a former captain and now a former mentor of the franchise. A successful one at that too - Gambhir won them three IPL titles. Mysore quotes his former boss from his previous insurance job to illustrate his point: "Right or wrong, I'm never in doubt." He explains, "The reality is to make a decision and stand by it; let people critique or analyse it later."

Gambhir fits this description perfectly, Mysore believes. The famous Hamletian characteristic of indecision has no place in his lexicon. There is never a 'To be or not to be' dilemma with him. There is only 'To be, unequivocally.' Clarity in thinking and clarity in decision-making are two of Gambhir's strongest attributes, Mysore would confirm. Bharat Arun would endorse the point. "He is straight forward in his thinking and working style," says the former India bowling coach, now with KKR.

Mysore and Gambhir worked together at KKR for seven years initially, from 2011 to 2017 when the latter was made the captain, and later in the 2023-24 season when he served as the mentor of the franchise. In between his two stints at KKR, Gambhir became a Member of Parliament, proving himself as a leader with a strong mass base and an aura that commands undivided attention whenever he rises to speak.

Upon his return to the KKR dressing room after six years, he sat in the same chair he used to during his captaincy. He aimed for continuity rather than shaking things up. It was a message that he was not there to rock the boat. KKR had been fielding nearly the same set of players for two years before he took on the role of the mentor, with the additions of Mitchell Starc and Englishman Phil Salt replacing compatriot Jason Roy. He transformed them into champions.

"He is deeply committed to his principles, and his passion for winning is unquestionable. He invests significant time in various aspects he believes that can contribute to success," Mysore reveals while discussing Gambhir's style and approach to coaching. "His communication style is low key yet assertive. He possesses the ability to connect with individuals and, in turn, extract the best performance from each player." Sunil Narine stopped opening the batting until Gambhir persuaded him to resume opening for KKR. The Trinidadian ended up becoming the MVP of the IPL 2024.

As seen during his playing days, for Gambhir as a coach and mentor, winning is paramount. At a jersey unveiling function of Lucknow Super Giants in Ahmedabad a couple of years back, discussions revolved around the team's jersey design and its features, with debate also leading to which IPL jersey was the best. When asked for his opinion, Gambhir, then mentor of LSG, responded curtly saying, "The best jersey is the one worn by the team that wins the IPL." LSG owner Sanjiv Goenka and captain KL Rahul were present on stage.

In his 58 Tests, 147 ODIs, and 37 T20Is, Gambhir played some stellar innings - whether in the final of the 2007 World T20, the final of the 2011 World Cup, or even in New Zealand where he batted for more than seven hours to save a Test, leading to a series win. When he felt he was not performing up to par, he stepped aside, as he did in the 2018 season when he relinquished the captaincy and made way for a young Shreyas Iyer to take over midway through the season.

Whether as a person, a coach, or a leader, he tends to surround himself with individuals he trusts, which may lead to him having those, with whom he shares a good working relationship, in his coaching staff in the Indian dressing room. He exudes a no-nonsense demeanour and is known to display fierce patriotism, traits likely to carry over into his coaching role. Additionally, he benefits from a proficient PR team that has effectively crafted his public persona. In all fairness to his team, there is more truth than hype in the image built about him.

While he is a successful politician having won an election for a Lok Sabha seat in New Delhi, delivering high-octane intellectual speeches in the dressing room is not his forte. Oratory is not his style. He excels more in one-on-one communication, leveraging his ability to bring out the best in each individual.

Dealing with the Indian team, packed with superstars, will undoubtedly pose a significant challenge for him, despite his own stature as a superstar. Time will tell his effectiveness in managing player vanity, behaviour and particularly in his interactions with Virat Kohli, given their acrimonious history. However, what is certain is he will ensure the team will adopt a no-nonsense approach, focused solely on winning, and nothing but winning.

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