After leading the Kolkata Knight Riders to the Indian Premier League trophy in 2012, Gautam Gambhir has once again guided his team into the Playoffs in 2014 in similar fashion. Required to win all their games in the business end of the tournament to qualify, the team stood up to the challenge and finished second on the points table. A place in the top two gives the team two chances to make it to the Final of Pepsi IPL 2014. Leading from the front and shouldering all the responsibility, Gambhir encourages the rest of the team to play freely – an approach that has yielded results.
In an interview with IPLT20.com ahead of Qualifier 1, Gambhir spoke about the team’s determination and efforts to get the desired results. Facing the reality and meeting the challenges head-on has helped KKR alter their situation this season. Citing that, Gambhir also spoke about his decision to shed the tag of chokers that his team had got, especially while chasing.
Excerpts from his interview:
What has been the key to KKR turning things around?
I think the most important thing was that we knew we had the side to turn things around. Especially after the first seven games, I don’t think a lot of people must have believed that we would finish in the top two. But I believe in the kind of individuals there were in the dressing room. Given the strong individuals and the kind of talent that we had, it was just a matter of time we made an impact. Even in the first seven games, if you see them, most of the games that we lost we should have actually won; especially against Kings XI Punjab, where we couldn’t chase 132, and even the one against Rajasthan Royals.
So, I knew that we were always there in the mix; it was just that we never crossed the line. The most positive thing that happened in the first seven games was that we were never outplayed by any of the opponents. So, I think it was just a matter of time that we would start winning. Obviously, it would give us a lot of confidence and that started from the win against Delhi Daredevils in Delhi. What do you tell your team when every game is a must-win?
Sometimes, it is a blessing in disguise as well that there is no room to get complacent. And especially when I lead the side, there would be no room for complacency, because I feel that winning is a habit, just like how losing is a habit. Whenever I walk on to the field, I want the team to win because coming back into a winning dressing room is a better feeling than getting back into a losing dressing room. So, for me, it is all about winning.
What are challenges that you face as a captain?
Many, I think. First of all, I think you need to be transparent and honest. You need to be straightforward and figure out if there is something that needs to be sorted. If there is something that needs changing, you just try and take it head-on rather than wait for things to happen. I am very proactive in those things. We felt that we were not playing good cricket; we didn’t have that knockout punch in the first seven games. So, we were addressing those issues. There were times when people were tagging us as chokers. So, I personally wanted to chase from there on and get rid of the tag.
To be a winning side, to be champion side, you don’t want to have any tag on your head. And for me, it was all about addressing the big issues like when we weren’t able to chase in a couple of games before, which we should have won easily – like the one against Rajasthan Royals and even against Kings XI Punjab where we couldn’t chase 132 runs. I always wanted to chase, so that we could get rid of this tag of chokers.
Would you say that Robin Uthappa anchoring the innings and you complementing him has been one of the key factors in the team's success?
Personally, I feel that in the T20 format, your top three will always score more heavily than your middle-order batsmen because they are the ones who face maximum balls. But I feel that the biggest plus and the biggest game changers have been someone like Shakib Al Hasan, who has played two unbelievable innings, or Suryakumar Yadav and Yusuf Pathan, the way he performed in the last game. You can’t expect an opening batsman to do that. The game changers will always be middle-order batsmen.
It is good that Robin’s been scoring really well because someone who has been scoring really well needs to continue doing that. And he has been doing it consistently, so it is good. But I always believe that our game changers have been the middle order, especially someone like Shakib, Yusuf and to a certain extent Ryan ten Doeschate and even Surya. The way he played, the very important match-winning six, which he hit (to take the team to victory in the last league game to seal second place on the points table) was crucial. No one would have spoken about Yusuf in the last game if Surya wouldn’t have finished that game. People would have said that it was the fastest fifty, but no one would have given him the amount of credit that he has received now; it was only due to Surya, because he was the one who stayed till the end and struck that very important six to finish the game.
Do you chalk out roles for players? How do you go about the planning?
I know that we have got a lot of firepower. It was just about giving them a lot of freedom to go out there and express themselves. It is very easy to put a lot of pressure on them. I always believe that if someone has to soak that pressure, it has to be either me or Jacques Kallis, when he was playing. So, it was me and Jacques, who would take that pressure and play the role of anchor. It lets others, especially our middle order that is full of stroke players, to go out there and play freely and express themselves rather than thinking or just trying to spend time in the middle.
Now that Kallis is not there, it makes my job even more important in terms of going out there and absorbing as much pressure as I can because I am the senior-most player around. I am leading the side, and it is about leading from the front and absorbing as much pressure as I can.
Sunil Narine and Morne Morkel play key roles in the bowling department. How do you work on spreading the eight overs bowled by these two?
That was always that thought when we got into the auction because we always wanted someone to complement Sunil. If you have a quality attack around Sunil, it makes him even more effective. You don’t want Sunil to be singled out all the time. The teams are thinking that we just need to see Sunil through for four overs and we can attack the other 16 overs. So, the thought was that we need a lot of firepower that can bowl around Sunil. He has been our key bowler and our bowling attack revolves around him, but having someone like a Morne Morkel with that kind of pace and bounce just gives us that extra edge up front. And it has always been someone like Morkel or Pat Cummins or for that matter even Umesh Yadav who gives us that firepower.
Someone bowling at 145 kph is always a luxury for any captain. It lets you hit the opposition really hard up front. And then, they are backed by someone like Sunil Narine and Sahkib Al Hasan as well. People keep talking about Sunil a lot, but if you see the kind of spells that Shakib has bowled in this tournament, they are good. He has gone unnoticed, but I think he has been a real game changer from the bowling and batting point of view.
With the kind of support does KKR have at home and how important was it to play the last leg at home?
Honestly, we were not thinking about playing at home and the crowd support. But it was important to finish in the top two, and we deserve every bit of it. If you see the kind of cricket that we have played in last seven games, it would have been really unfair if after winning the game we would have finished at No 3. Coming at No.2 gives us two cracks at the cup, and we deserve every bit of it. We wouldn’t say that we were lucky; I think we played unbelievably to finish at No.2. I am very proud of the guys as well because we always wanted to finish at No.2, and it is a fair result.
Would you say that the team peaked at the right time? What has it been like in the dressing room?
After the first seven games, I won’t lie to you, all of us were low because some of the games we should have finished, we couldn’t. I think the biggest disappointment was when we were 121 for no loss against Rajasthan Royals when we were chasing 170-odd, and we lost six wickets in a span of two runs. I think we were 121 for no loss and then 123 for six. No one would have ever seen that kind of a game. It was frustrating for me as well. And then, we went to Delhi for the next game, and I still remember everyone was telling me let’s stop chasing and that we have the bowling to restrict the opposition at any cost. It was my personal decision that we have to chase so that we get rid of this tag. And it was important too that we were very professional when we won the game by eight wickets.
From there on, we started getting the confidence that we can chase. And then, we chased six games in a row, and that shows the character of the team and the character of the individuals in the dressing room as well. I am really proud of the guys, the way they have handled pressure and the way they have lived up to the expectations.
What are the areas that you would look to work on?
There is still a lot to work on. If you see, in the last game, we didn’t start off that well. The intensity was low. I think we were not disciplined enough in our bowling as well. We really lacked in our fielding too. When you get into an important phase like the Playoffs, you need to be up for it because we are going to be up against an opposition like Kings XI Punjab, and you can’t end up giving them any room. It is okay if they play some good cricket, fair enough. But you can’t end up giving them that edge. If you give a quality opposition an edge, they will try and get on top of you. And we still need to be ready and be disciplined in all three departments, whether we bat first or field first. Somewhere in our last game, I think we were not up for it, especially in our bowling and fielding departments, and hopefully, we can try and rectify that tomorrow.