IPL- Gambhir as Lucknow mentor
An animated Gautam Gambhir (left), the Lucknow Super Giants mentor, after his team edges past Kolkata Knight Riders to ensure a play-offs spot. Image Credit: Twitter

Kolkata: The City of Joy has a special place in the heart of Gautam Gambhir, the intense mentor of Lucknow Super Giants, the third-placed team which flew in on Friday to play their IPL 2022 Eliminator next week. For the people of Kolkata (read: fans of Kolkata Knight Riders), the feeling is mutual.

Don’t be hence surprised if K.L.Rahul’s Lucknow draws more cheers from a capacity crowd at the Eden Gardens when they take on either Royal Challengers Bangalore or Delhi Capitals in the Eliminator on Wednesday - even if simply for the man in the dugout. ‘Gauti,’ whose role was like that of an orchestrator for the new franchise right from the planning stages of the auction to their campaign, had been responsible for turning around an under-performing KKR when he led them to two IPL titles during his six-year reign as captain between 2011 to 2017.


What is it that makes Gambhir, the former Indian opener and member of two World Cup winning squads, so special for the people of Kolkata? Believe it or not, the way he managed a turnaround in loyalties from the overtly emotional cricket fans of the city who swear by Sourav Ganguly on his side with results (two titles in 2012, 2014, a number of play-off appearances and qualification for the now defunct Champions League) was nothing short of extraordinary. It did not happen in a day while at a personal level, Gambhir also started feeling comfortable with the easygoing pace of the city.

Incidentally, Gambhir’s reign started under dramatic circumstances in the face of a hostile public opinion when the KKR management released all their players after the first cycle of three years, including Ganguly, amid rumours of a frosty relationship between the former Indian captain and the ownership. A common practice in the ruthless world of IPL franchises with the philosophy of perform-or-perish - and it hardly came as a surprise when Ganguly went unsold in the 2011 auction.

IPL-Gambhir with KKR
A beaming Gautam Gambhir after Kolkata Knight Riders won their first IPL title under his captaincy. Image Credit: Twitter

The KKR management, under the leadership of the then new CEO Venky Mysore, went for broke to rope in Gambhir - then an international player - in the 2011 auction with the logic that they needed a big Indian international to step into Ganguly’s shoes. The Delhi-born Gambhir led by example and despite not really having a squad big on star power, developed a template based on a strong spin attack (this is the phase they acquired mystery spinner Sunil Narine, who has been their longest serving cricketer) which proved to be almost an unbeatable combination on the slow turners in Eden those days.

Gambhir’s honeymoon continued for six years, during which he started addressing Kolkata as his ‘second home’ and had even contemplated acquiring a residential property here. However, the 2018 auction ushered in a shock for him when the same management gave him the cold shoulder and pitched for Dinesh Kaget rthik, who took over as the next captain.

Such decisions are par for the course, unless you are a Mahendra Singh Dhoni or Rohit Sharma, but Gambhir was hurt. The addition of two new franchises this year came as an opportunity to slip into a Gambhir, now a Member of Parliament in Delhi, to take time out and slip into the mentor mode as a challenge. It is believed that he was the first recruit that Kolkata-based industrial baron Sanjeev Goenka, owners of the Lucknow franchise, zeroed in on after their successful bid.

Gambhir was given a carte blanche in the auction after they had roped in Rahul, Australian allrounder Marcus Stoinis and Ravi Bishnoi as the draft picks. A clear thinking was apparent in the way Lucknow went about their job while Gambhir had hand-picked some of the uncapped talents like young Ayush Badoni or left-arm seamer Mohsin Khan and they have delivered the goods.

There is a buzz that Gambhir may get feelers from the KKR camp as a replacement for the outgoing Brendon McCullum next season, but it’s too early to talk about it. For now, the firecely competitive Gambhir has a job on his hands!