The talk around West Bengal government’s spontaneous response to KKR’s win has almost evaporated a developing thought out of our minds – Gautam Gambhir’s leadership skills!
Experts, fans, people in the media believed that it was ‘Double-G’ (as Danny M would like to call it!) who turned things around for KKR since the teams were reshuffled via the auction last year. KKR couldn’t breach the play-offs last year, but ensured that the momentum and all round skills that they sustained during the league stages concluded with winning the IPL trophy this season. So how big is the role of the captain in a T20 tournament? Or is the hype purely because he captained a side that won?
It is a never-ending debate on the subject of difficulties as a captain in different formats; though one can safely assume that leading a side in different formats has different challenges. Gambhir isn’t a flamboyant kind of leader, or super-cool like MS Dhoni but in his own way ensures that he yields the most out of the job assigned to him. He has led the Indian side (in the absence of Dhoni) to big series wins, has led sides in domestic cricket and now led an IPL side to a memorable win. GG has provided glimpses of his ability to lead ‘winning’ sides and maintain his composure under pressure; an image paradoxical to his aggressive self while batting (at times). Also he is a believer of the thought that a captain is as good as his team, which he has explicitly said in his interviews post the IPL win.
As it always happens in Indian cricket, we tend to and somehow have a fascination for looking too far beyond. GG’s captaincy hasn’t deviated that pattern; people have already labelled him as India’s next test captain. When Virat Kohli (age -23) was appointed as Dhoni’s deputy a couple of months ago, there were mixed reactions; some foresaw him as India’s next skipper, others felt Gambhir was undone. GG’s successful IPL-5 campaign and Virat Kohli’s below-par performance has brought that uncertainty back to the fore. The selectors, by not explaining Kohli’s appointment then, will now struggle to keep GG out of the team management.
The big question though is whether there is a need to replace India’s test captain, and is GG the obvious option?
MSD has led an Indian test side to the its worst 12 months last season, yet there is something about him which reassures every Indian fan and makes thoughts of replacing him (as the skipper) a feeble one for the board & the selectors. It could be his track record or the lack of justifiable replacement options, but you sense it is his ability to absorb pressure and not to crumble under it that wins it for him. Do the selectors, fans, media members have the same kind of belief in Gambhir? Or do they feel that it will burden him, affecting his batting? There are questions aplenty, but it would be better off seeking answers to them rather than bypassing them.
Gambhir is India’s top batsman, and it would be imperative that he stays in good nick over the next couple of seasons if India are to entertain thoughts of reclaiming the numero uno spot. Captaincy could work either way for him – burden him and bring discrepancies to his game or make him more responsible and generate big knocks more often.
At 30 and half, he still has (minimum) 5-6 years of cricket left in him; which makes him a reasonable option for MS Dhoni’s successor. The need for search for a test captain has got to do with Dhoni’s frequent freaky statements about possible retirement from one format by the end of 2013. If the selectors’ envisage Virat as India’s next captain for all formats then he needs to be groomed as long as he could but if they feel Gambhir could serve the purpose then he needs to be prepared for the job. An IPL win shouldn’t really be the parameter to judge captaincy skills, but with many lauding GG’s leadership abilities it wouldn’t be unjustified if he is bestowed the ‘crown of thorns’!
Indian cricket selections have traditionally been on the basis of popular perception or when they don’t have any reasons to go the other way. Any avid Indian cricket follower will tell you that unless you have strong support for Gambhir, or strong dislike for MS there won’t be any change. India don’t have a major away test series for the next 12-15 months, thus the upcoming home season could a very good starting point for Gambhir if only he is envisaged as India’s next skipper in white clothing!
Published with permission from The Spectator.