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The man who made the cricket ball dance to his tunes, a mean machine, one of the most complete fast bowlers to have graced the game and one of the greatest cricketing minds ever – there’s not much about cricket that Wasim Akram doesn’t know.
If you can impress Akram, a leader par excellence, with your captaincy, you must be good. Hence, it is perhaps time for Gautam Gambhir to stop undermining his role as a captain with use of the line, ‘A captain is only as good as his team’. Because Wasim Akram thinks Gambhir is the best captain in Pepsi IPL 2014.
The praise didn’t come from Akram the bowling mentor of KKR. It came from a former fast bowler, who knows what impact your captain’s leadership style has on you as a player. In a chat with IPLT20.com, Akram explains what makes Gambhir a special leader for the bowlers. He also talks about his fast bowling wards at KKR, especially Umesh Yadav.
Here are excerpts from his exclusive interview:
Second IPL win for you with KKR.
Oh, it feels out of this world. When we won it for the first time, in 2012, we were all really excited and over the moon. We still are, but this time we’re a lot calmer as well. According to me, the credit goes to the captain for the way he led this group for the entire tournament. The best thing about this team is that every member is enjoying each other’s success and company. The foreign players and the Indian boys are really close, and that’s great to see as a mentor.
What did you tell the team to cause such an amazing turnaround?
Nothing. Our job is to keep things simple. We talk to the point and don’t have long meetings. We just try to keep them relaxed and lend any assistance they need. That is the mantra that Trevor Bayliss and I go by. The credit goes to the captain and his team. We are here just to support them.
The moment Gautam started scoring runs, KKR looked a completely different team. He does have a very big impact on the team’s performance.
It means a lot to the team when the skipper is performing well. It adds to the security and the self belief. He has led his troops very well. I believe he was the best captain in this IPL. Tonight, from the 11th to the 15th over of the KXIP innings, instead of looking for dot-balls – which most captains do during that phase of the innings – he encouraged his bowlers to bowl for wickets. That aggressive mindset and the belief he puts in his players makes him the best captain in the tournament.
Spin has always been KKR’s strength, but this time your pace attack was beefed up considerably. Did you enjoy having so many pace bowlers around?
Yes, we’ve had a number of pace bowlers this year. They are all intelligent bowlers and hard working cricketers. It has been special working with so many pacers who are all so different from one another. There’s not much more you can ask as a coach.
Was promoting Robin Uthappa up the order the masterstroke that changed everything for KKR?
Yes, it was. This was a new team with new combinations, and it took us five-six games to get it right. We realised that this guy would be better opening the batting and he proved us right. He was consistency and class personified.
A word on Umesh Yadav.
I don’t know why he hasn’t been picked for the Test series in England. Every county in England has medium pacers who swing the ball, so the batsmen can pretty much deal with them easily. What is difficult is to handle swing with pace. That’s what Umesh has got. It is unfortunate that he is not going. But I’ve told him not to worry and that he will come back to the Test team soon.
It takes something very, very special to make Gautam Gambhir to smile. That intense and brooding face doesn’t light up for no good reason. But the last month has given Gambhir some absolutely stunning reasons to smile. He got back among runs, welcomed his baby girl into the world, led Kolkata Knight Riders to nine consecutive wins in Pepsi IPL 2014, culminating into their second IPL triumph and earned his place back in India’s Test squad.
So, in an interview with IPLT20.com after KKR’s three-wicket win over KIXP in the Final, Gambhir was pretty generous with his smile. He talked of his team’s truly marvelous rise from the early stages of struggles in the tournament and, like a true leader, spoke of the importance of having faith and trust in his teammates.
Here are excerpts from his interview:
What a month you’ve had, both professionally and personally.
Absolutely! From where we were after the first seven games, this feels like a dream. I was telling Vijay Dahiya last night that being here for the Final doesn’t seem real, it’s a dream. Not many people gave us a chance after the start we got. This is an unbelievable feeling.
The little baby girl is very lucky!
Oh, she is, and I am lucky to have her in my life. A lot of things have changed in my life for the better after her arrival.
What inspired this incredible turnaround?
We had the individuals in the dressing room to turn it around. The first couple of games that we lost, we should have really won them. But these things happen in a tournament like this and we truly believed that if we played to our potential, it would be difficult for any side to beat us.
A word on Robin Uthappa.
He has always been an opening batsman, and when things were not working well at the top of the order, we though we needed someone proactive and quick so that we can be aggressive from both ends. It worked very well.
Young Manish Pandey really stepped up to the plate for your guys in this tournament. He had slipped under the radar a bit for a few years. How did you get the best out of him?
Young players need the freedom to be able to express themselves, and I just gave him that freedom. In the last couple of games, he didn’t perform, but we still stuck with him in the Final and he delivered (94 off 50 balls). For me, faith and trust are two very strong words in my dictionary. If I believe in someone, I’ll back that person to the hilt. That’s what we did with Manish; we showed faith in him and gave him the No.3 batting position.
Another such case is that of Yusuf Pathan. Your unflinching faith in him has been vindicated.
People talk about the X-factor and he is that X-factor for our team. He will frustrate you and annoy you, but he will also win you games singlehandedly. You’ve got to be patient with such players. We have shown that patience with him, and this year he has rewarded us. He scored 36 today off 22, and even though people may not consider it, it was a very good contribution that had an impact on the outcome of the match.