The story began in 2011. Gautam Gambhir was just picked by one of the least successful teams in IPL, Kolkata Knight Riders for a whopping $2.4 million, then an IPL record. The city this team represents is known to have one of the most passionate cricket fans in the world who just witnessed their icon player be dumped during the auction.
An icon who was widely considered as the city’s favorite son. It was not an easy job. Gambhir had to face an assignment where he had to build a successful team and also win the trust of the KKR fans outside the cricket pitch.
After 7 years and 2 IPL trophies when Gambhir left KKR in 2018, he ensured that he had managed to build a trusted relationship with fans and the owners. Over the years KKR had many superstars representing them. They had global T20 superstars like Sunil Narine, Jacques Kallis, Andre Russell and Indians stars like Robin Uthappa, Yusuf Pathan, and Kuldeep Yadav- players whom fans adored and gathered in thousands to watch their performances at Eden Gardens. With Gambhir, the relationship was different. Gambhir was a true leader, someone who led the team from the front both in and outside the ground and more importantly developed a character of the team in the same line as himself; a team of limited ability with big heart and maximum application to achieve the best possible result just like Gambhir did in his career.
Kolkata Knight Riders are one of the flashiest teams in the league. IPL boasts of developing multiple linkages between cricket and entertainment industry through the presence of Bollywood celebrities in the ground and in those post-match parties. However, KKR has an owner who is arguably the biggest superstar in the contemporary Indian film world which resulted in various global sponsorship and many other distractions and controversies. Gautam Gambhir, with his brand of captaincy, successfully managed to build a team which was oblivious to those outside events and focussed on the job in hand. This was a bigger contribution of Gambhir to KKR than his powerful batting at the top order or handling his bowling stock intelligently.
Gambhir is the all-time highest run-getter for KKR with 3,345 runs and 30 fifties, almost thousand runs and 14 fifties ahead of Robin Uthappa in the second position. KKR fans can tell you many match-winning innings of Gambhir where he either anchored the chase by holding one end up or gave a quick start to up the tempo. Along with Kallis and Uthappa, Gambhir developed a very strong top order for KKR around 2011 to 2014. In the field, Gambhir had a relatively easy job while managing his bowlers because of the presence of some leading world class bowlers like Sunil Narine and Brett Lee in the team. However, in a format like T20, you cannot play with a set formula and keep innovating to surprise the audience in regular intervals. Gambhir was very successful in that and in many occasions had the uncanny knack of getting a wicket from nowhere through an inspiring bowling change.
Gambhir captained KKR in 122 matches with a win percentage of 57%. Only MS Dhoni has captained more matches in IPL than this KKR legend. Gambhir took KKR to 3 Play-offs and 2 championships in the 7 seasons he captained. KKR was never short of fans for their superstars and Shahrukh Khan but Gambhir brought his inner fire to make them a successful cricket team which was admired for its toughness and fighting spirit like Gambhir himself.