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Gautam Gambhir: Interesting journey awaits Indian cricket's 'Mr Intense'

Gambhir, a non-conformist in every sense of the term, was having a cold war with the erstwhile mandarins of Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) at that time.

Gautam Gambhir: Interesting journey awaits Indian crickets Mr Intense
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Gautam Gambhir

NEW DELHI: It was just after a promotional event at a five star facility in New Delhi some years back.

A smiling Gautam Gambhir, a rare scene, was standing in the foyer when a couple of journalists approached him.

Gambhir, a non-conformist in every sense of the term, was having a cold war with the erstwhile mandarins of Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) at that time.

"You know why I don't fear anyone in this establishment? Because I am not here to earn money," he told those two journalists.

As he starts his new journey as the head coach of the Indian men's national team, he braces up for one of the most eventful journeys that promises to be a rollercoaster to say the least.

And he should be ready for some comparisons too. Rahul Dravid's calm demeanour will not be easily forgotten especially after it played a key role in India ending an 11-year ICC trophy drought to lift the T20 World Cup just last month.

Gambhir's flamboyance will be scrutinised through that prism and he would be well aware.

The man from Central Delhi's Old Rajinder Nagar, the go-to place for India's Civil Services aspirants, despite his privileged upbringing, never ever had it easy in Indian cricket.

Perhaps that's the reason, intensity became his second nature as he was required to prove himself at every step.

Nothing was served to him on platter. May be that's why he could never say that winning and losing are part of life. Winning is the heart of life for Gautam Gambhir.

Indian cricket's eternal 'Mr Intense' never believed in taking prisoners but entering that Indian dressing room albeit in a different capacity, he must be knowing that, it would need something way more than razor-sharp strategies or pure passion to earn the complete loyalty of the players.

Three seasons of coaching in IPL and his leadership for KKR don't leave any iota of doubt about his cricketing acumen.

Making a monstrous opener out of a specialist spinner like Sunil Narine, giving wings to a world beater T20 all-rounder like Andre Russell or unearthing a future T20 gem like Suryakumar Yadav (the nickname SKY was Gambhir's coinage) or convincing Shah Rukh Khan and Venky Mysore to break the bank for Mitchell Starc, no one can question his ability to read the game.

Add his faith in juniors whom he likes, he can go the distance and ready to even get into a good scrap with anyone. He has done it in the past with the late Bishan Singh Bedi and the late Chetan Chauhan for a rookie pacer like Navdeep Saini.

Or it could be literally getting into a fight for juniors with senior Delhi coach K.P. Bhaskar, not to forget those epic on-field skirmishes with Virat Kohli.

Gambhir isn't your average also-ran, he is in your face and ready to loudly make his opinion known.

Just like as Delhi skipper, he came to the practice for three consecutive days and didn't enter nets till Ajay Jadeja, the appointed coach for the season, didn't resign on fourth day. Gambhir's logic was simple: No chance of sharing dressing room with someone accused of match-fixing.

Right or Wrong? Well, one could just say, it was a Gambhir thing.

Now is he always correct? A former cricketer, who played with Gambhir for India and North Zone, had a very interesting take.

"There is no right way or wrong way for him. There's only a Gauti Way. Will he change that? or would he rather even want to change that? I doubt. But would he need some tweak here and there?

"Well, in the Indian dressing room, it's a must. That's why Ravi bhai (Shastri) is a players' favourite," the accomplished player said.

In the IPL, which features an assortment of world's best cricketers, only the roles are explained. The execution is the players' domain.

A good IPL team doesn't have too many loose ends but a national team always ends up having a few.

But an Indian team is where there are some of the game's bonafide superstars, and history is a witness that superstars love status quo.

There will be a lot of fragile egos and Gambhir isn't exactly a people pleaser.

He feels that Mahendra Singh Dhoni gets more credit for one six in that 2011 World Cup final than a Zaheer Khan, who bowled an incredible first spell that put Sri Lanka on the back-foot.

He never misses an opportunity to hammer the point home even when he knows that Dhoni, like Sachin Tendulkar is an emotion for the average Indian cricket fan.

"I am not here to smile, I am here to win," he would tell Ravichandran Ashwin on his YouTube channel.

From which prism one views Gautam Gambhir will decide how one wants to judge him.

One can call him boorish for that fight with Kohli or a team-man who stood for an Afghan player, who represented his IPL team.

One can call him an aggressive politician given his tweets making no holds barred attack on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal or one could find a kind-hearted MP, who would serve the poor with Re 1 meals in his canteen and sponsor education of 25 children of CRPF personnel, martyred in a Maoist attack.

There are questions and very pertinent ones.

How would he deal with a Virat Kohli, easily India's best player by a distance and with whom he has had a history?

He is an alpha male in the IPL Universe but is he ready to cede ground and let Rohit Sharma, who will be around leading the team in at least two of the three formats, take the limelight and be a backroom man?

He has had some marathon Test knocks in Napier and Wellington and a classy one in Durban but what kind of a red ball coach will he become?

These answers won't be available readily. It will be layered and would need a nuanced take.

It will be a learning curve for Gambhir also but every Indian fan would want it to be an upward one. If it's a downward spiral, can he develop a thick skin? Well, Gautam Gambhir is anything but thick-skinned. It won't be the easiest of rides.

PTI
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