The Kolkata Knight Riders were a revelation in the 2014 Indian Premier League. After a series of losses in the initial part of the tournament, they gathered themselves together and start winning games with panache. They made it to the business end of the tournament only to emerge as Champions at the end of it. Not surprisingly, their captain Gautam Gambhir is a happy man who takes immense pride in leading a side full of exuberance. (Aldso Read: Kolkata Knight Riders Squad - CLT20 2014)
When Gambhir speaks, he oozes confidence and self belief. It is that quality that has helped him succeed as a captain and as a batsman for the Kolkata Knight Riders. With the Knight Riders all set to kickstart their Champions League T20 tournament in a week’s time, we at CLT20.com quizzed the KKR captain about the team’s mindset ahead of the marquee tournament. Not surprisingly, the Knight Riders are keen to get their hands on the CLT20 trophy and place it in their trophy cabinet. (Also Read: CLT20 2014 Schedule and Fixtures)
Excerpts from the interview.
What do you think are the chances of KKR winning the Oppo Champions League Twenty20?
We always take the field thinking that we will win and this time it is no different. Ideally one should not be thinking about the title in the first lap of the competition but such is the subconscious mind that it often takes you to the title leap even before you reach there. That is why I want to focus on the first game against Chennai Super Kings and not go too far.
Last time in 2012 when KKR won the IPL, the CLT20 was played in South Africa. Now that the tournament is being played in India, will the IPL franchises be better equipped to win the title like MI won it last year?
Well that is only natural. Like it will be more challenging for any Aussie team to win Big Bash if it took place in India, its vice-versa as well. Having said that, it would have been extremely satisfactory as a captain if we had won the tournament in South Africa. It would have symbolised that we are a good all-round side which not only thrives in Indian conditions but abroad as well. For a cricketer there is no bigger satisfaction than winning in foreign conditions. Yes, playing at home will be advantage to the Indian franchisees.
On a personal note, there would be very little time to regroup and get into the T20 mode. How difficult will be this switch-on, switch off process for the team?
Look, attack comes naturally to Indian players which suits the approach to ODIs and T20 format. Therefore switching on won't be a problem.
Although you require a great deal of skill to clear the boundaries, T20's pace doesn't need any kickstart. It automatically brings a player into an auto mode. Plus in KKR we don't believe in big and wholesale changes. So each player knows what his role will be. I think it will help.
You have been the only other franchise captain apart from MS Dhoni to win two IPL titles. What is it that makes you lead a T20 side with so much finesse? Is it the assortment of players or something to do with KKR just like CSK or MI is now a stable franchise?
I think there are a lot of factors. We in KKR believe in a happy dressing room. The day I came on to lead the side four years ago, I told the team one thing and that was, in KKR we don't drop players we pick 11 cricketers to do the job. I'd like to believe that this culture where players do not feel insecure does help. Personally for me there is an emotional connect too with KKR's massive fan base. I am an emotional man and I like a charged up atmosphere. I think Bengali fans are KKR's X-factor. A lot of captains believe that T20 is about batsmen but I somehow feel that it is about the bowlers. Therefore I am always looking at good bowling options through raw pace and spin. I think bowlers can win more T20 games than batsmen. Most of all we play self-less cricket. In short, playing the team-sport the way a team sport should be played.
You had a torrid time last year at the start of the IPL but as the time went along; you got into the groove scoring 335 runs in 16 innings. How did the change in mindset come along?
I wish you hadn't reminded me of the start (laughs) but I guess will have to live with it now. The one run that I got after three consecutive ducks was one of the most important runs I'd have taken in my entire cricketing life. I think knockout happens in two cases, one when you dominate from the beginning or like me when you are cornered. I was almost dead after three ducks and a single run in four games. That is when I decided to go on offensive and thankfully it worked.
Do you think as an individual player, your performance in England will have a bearing on your frame of mind when you go out their leading KKR?
Time is a big factor. I think the gap between the last Test match in England and first game of the Oppo CLT20 will take care of the confidence levels. Besides like I said, T20 is a different format so I don't think the past will have much bearing on what lies ahead.
Key Indian Players like Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav haven't had much match practice in the past month and half. Do you think it can impact the performance of the side?
No I don't think so. In any case Robin and Manish were playing KPL so I don't think anyone of the Knights will be rustic. Trust me it is such a mindset game that once you cross the line your are on an auto-mode. Practice or confidence play very little part when a bowler is bowling at 140kmph plus.
Jacques Kallis has now retired from international cricket. Will he be in the scheme of things as far as the playing eleven is concerned?
Absolutely. Jacques is a part of the team-management which is the engine of KKR. He helps me take important decisions from selections to bowling changes. He's a pillar of our dressing room and will continue to do so.
Do you think at times your intensity and the way you push yourself works adversely against you. Probably, you put too much pressure on yourself and a bit less relaxed?
Yes, a lot of people have told me that but my approach has always been like that. The other day I was playing badminton with Virender Sehwag, Ashish Nehra and a few others. There again it was not for enjoying the game but winning. I have always been like that. I play to compete and not look good or make friends. It’s too late in the day to change my approach, I am happy the way I am. Frankly, I'd rather be a mean winner rather than a polite loser.
Will the Oppo CLT20 be a platform which might just enable you to make a case for yourself for the ODI series against West Indies especially when the Indian team's top-order is still bearing a fragile look?
I have always said that cricket is a team sport which doesn't have place for individual goals. I will be trying to help KKR win games and in the process if I get some runs and make a comeback to the Indian team so be it. But honestly the tournament is about teams winning the title and not an individual staking a comeback.