Making the case for Gambhir

Did Gautam Gambhir deserve the boot or should he be Dhoni’s deputy ahead of Virat Kohli?

Now that Shah Rukh Khan and Mamata Bannerjee have milked more mileage from Kolkata Knight Riders’ IPL victory than an Oscar winner, Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion combined, it may be time to look at the person who actually played an instrumental role in the win.

Kolkata Knight Riders skipper Gautam Gambhir not only made the tactical decisions that took the team all the way but also led from the front, thereby inspiring his men to go the extra mile. He stuck with players he believed in even when they fell below expectations and despite being viewed as someone with a rigid personality he showed flexibility on the ground in matters like bowling changes and strategy.

All this just three months after India’s vice-captaincy was taken away from Gambhir without any explanation or forewarning. At the time, Chairman of the National Selection committee – Krishnamachari Srikkanth, deemed Virat Kohli ‘an excellent future captain’ and his justification for appointing the youngster as Dhoni’s deputy for the Asia Cup was that they had started looking forward towards the future.

There was no word on what it meant for Gambhir and if the demotion was a result of non-performance, foresight or not seeing eye-to-eye with the India captain. The announcement after all came on the back of India’s tour Down Under, where there were reported tiffs between Gambhir and Sehwag on one side and Dhoni on the other.  Gambhir and Dhoni had even differed publically on the composition of the playing XI and the ideal way to chase down a total. With Dhoni having a say in the selection meeting, did this not factor in when determining the vice-captaincy?

At the start of the fifth edition of the IPL, KKR’s mentor and bowling coach Wasim Akram went on record to state that Gambhir should use the IPL to prove a point or two to the selectors. Akram said that if he was in Gambhir’s place he would have thought “Ok, you think that I’m not even fit for vice-captaincy… But I will prove that I am a good captain by winning this IPL.”

Well Gambhir has managed to do just that, but it isn’t clear if the CSK dominated Indian think tank – comprising of the close-knit Board President N Srinivasan, Chief Selector Srikkanth and Captain MS Dhoni are willing to budge.

Gautam Gambhir has always been a serious, bordering-on-nerdy cricketer. When questioned directly his answers seem a tad rehearsed. Unlike his very straightforward, matter-of-fact friend Virender Sehwag, Gambhir has developed the habit of making his stand on controversial issues well known but under the guise of diplomacy.     

Gambhir has maintained that a captain is only as good as his team and when the captaincy debate broke out earlier this week he accepted that he would love the responsibility that comes with being India’s Test captain. The decline in his individual performances in Test cricket over the past year have undoubtedly harmed his chances, but given his overall record that could be put down to the fall out of injuries and a patch of bad form.

Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni still reckons he is the best choice to be India’s captain for now but he has been quoted on several occasions, saying that in 2013 he would take a call and quit one form of cricket. In his view, his body would not be able to withstand several more years of the current day-in and day-out demands. He’s given a very clear indication that if he opts to play ODIs then he needs to be completely fit to focus on playing the 2015 World Cup and in case he chooses to only play Tests, then the new ODI skipper should have reins of the team for at least a year before leading the team in a World Cup.

Under such circumstances, would Virat Kohli be capable of leading either the Test or ODI side as early as next year? Kohli is young and without doubt a talented and confident batsman. He’s proven his worth in one-day internationals and was able to secure a spot in the Test side when he alone showed spunk during India’s disastrous Test series in Australia.  To be a good captain however, one also needs to demonstrate the right attitude and be an ambassador of the game by example. This is where Kohli has a long way to go. His immaturity is evident in the way he reacted during the infamous middle-finger episode and he continues to be an illustration of an ‘angry young man’ after every dismissal. If Kohli is to be groomed as India’s next captain, then a crash course in etiquette is on the cards.