Batsman Forever

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Celebrations Mamata Banerjee, Jagmohan Dalmiya, Shah Rukh Khan and Gautam Gambhir
Celebrations Mamata Banerjee, Jagmohan Dalmiya, Shah Rukh Khan and Gautam Gambhir

If someone takes his cricket more seriously than Gautam Gambhir, then, he is yet to play in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Throughout the entire tournament, one sight that was flashed on the big screen in the stadia again and again, was of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) captain sitting in the team dug-out, nervously biting his nails. Not only does the left-handed batsman look grim — a grimmer sight there can’t be — what’s worse, he shows it. The lines on his face tighten, and until the winning runs are scored, the taut expression fixes itself permanently.

In hindsight, all of that can also be attributed to tenacity, the kind of which is not very commonly seen in Indian cricket. Gambhir’s body language in the earlier leg of the tournament in the UAE was in sharp contrast to the exuberance he showed in the matches in India. The drooping shoulders made way for a confident shrug, the inquisitive glance was replaced by an authoritative bowling change.

For adversity has been Gambhir’s constant companion, even when he was doing well as an Indian opener, and through all that, he has demonstrated a refusal to give in. It is perhaps fitting that the southpaw says that had he not been a cricketer, he would have been in the armed forces. Grit all the way.

You could not ask for a better candidate to be at the helm of a team that loses five of the first seven matches it plays in a tournament that has 14 league matches on the basis of which teams qualify for the semi-finals. To give KKR an outside chance of making the semis at that stage would have been risky enough, but to suggest that it would win the title itself would be downright outrageous. Clearly, KKR believed they could be outrageous.

The team’s ride to the title was nothing short of a fairytale. Against the Rajasthan Royals in the league stage, the team lost six wickets for two runs, and before that in a match in Abu Dhabi, they needed 16 runs off 12 balls with six wickets in hand against the same side. The match ended in a tie and KKR went on to lose the Super Over on a boundary count.

“It was a morose atmosphere. Everyone’s pride was hurt and we wanted to make the most in every match after that. There was a different energy post that defeat,” recalls Robin Uthappa, the holder of the orange cap. Uthappa topped the run-getters list in the tournament with a string of consistent scores.

After that, KKR won nine matches in a row, including the thriller of a final in Bengaluru! Even there, chasing a target of 200, the team never looked flummoxed despite looking like being out of it halfway through the match. It took a stellar performance from a young batsman to pull out all the stops in the Kings XI Punjab boat and KKR were champions, again, for the second time in seven editions, the only other team than Chennai Super Kings to do so.

Though the final match will be remembered for the heroics of an unassuming Wriddhiman Saha, the miserly bowling of Akshar Patel (the winner of the Most Promising Emerging Player award) and the pyrotechnics of Manish Pandey, the steering wheel was held by the redoubtable Gambhir.

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