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Feature

Firebrand and team man: What to expect from Gambhir as India's new coach?

ESPNcricinfo looks at the road ahead for Gautam Gambhir as he takes charge as head coach of India

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
10-Jul-2024
Gautam Gambhir at the ODI World Cup match between England and New Zealand, Ahmedabad, October 5, 2023

Gautam Gambhir has voiced strong opinions as a media professional over the years  •  Getty Images

More than six years since playing his last competitive game, Gautam Gambhir takes over as India's head coach at the age of 42, the second-youngest Indian after Kapil Dev in the late 1990s to be given the job. Fiercely competitive on the field, and feisty and outspoken off it, Gambhir takes charge of an Indian side that qualified for the finals of the last World Test Championship and ODI World Cup in 2023, and just won the T20 World Cup in 2024.

What are the big assignments coming up for Gambhir?

His first series in charge is a white-ball tour of Sri Lanka at the end of the month, followed by two Test series at home against Bangladesh and New Zealand, which are part of the ongoing World Test Championship. India are currently on top of the WTC points table and well placed to make the final.
The first big one for Gambhir, is India's five-Test tour of Australia at the end of the year. India won their previous two Test series in Australia, in 2018-19 and 2020-21, and this contest could be crucial to the final shaping of the WTC points table.

So what does Gambhir have on his coaching resume?

Well, he hasn't coached a domestic or international team previously in List A or first-class cricket, but that's not unusual for the Indian team. For example, both Ravi Shastri and Anil Kumble did not have prior coaching experience when they took charge in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
Gambhir got the job on the back of successful stints as mentor of two IPL franchises. Under his guidance, Lucknow Super Giants qualified for the playoffs in their first two IPL seasons, and then he oversaw Kolkata Knight Riders' run to the title in 2024. So in that regard, Gambhir's pathway to the India job is extremely different to his predecessor Rahul Dravid, who spent years as head of the National Cricket Academy and coaching India's age-group and A teams.

Will Gambhir have to make any tough calls in the near future?

In terms of personnel, with Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja retiring from T20Is, the transition is already underway in that format. The ODI and Test set-ups are stable for the near future and the question of transition or succession may only arise after the Champions Trophy and the World Test Championship in 2025.
Gambhir, in his role as a media professional, has been critical of senior players resting between high-profile assignments but with his tenure likely to run until the 2027 ODI World Cup, he might have to work with a workload management plan to have India's best players at their fittest for the most important assignments.

Data or instinct, where will Rohit and Gambhir meet ?

After winning the T20 World Cup, Rohit thanked Dravid in a poignant note for leaving all of his "accolades and achievements at the door" and making the players feel "comfortable enough to say just about anything" to him.
Rohit and Dravid were often aligned in their strategies and used data and analytics in their planning, like when they selected four spinners in their T20 World Cup squad because of conditions in the West Indies.
Gambhir is driven more by instinct and less by data, something he has stated a number of times, which means he may need to get onboard with a major aspect of Rohit's captaincy, both with India and formerly with Mumbai Indians.
Rohit (37) and Gambhir (42) are also contemporaries, having made their international debuts four years apart. They were regular India team-mates between 2009 and 2013 and opponents in the IPL up until 2018.

Gambhir and Kohli being in the same dressing room?

In 2009, Gambhir handed over his Player-of-the-Match award to a young Kohli who had scored his maiden ODI century. A year later, the two shared a crucial third-wicket partnership to prevent a collapse in the 2011 ODI World Cup final. Then in 2016, Gambhir made a comeback to the Test side under Kohli's captaincy.
But it's their on-field confrontations in the IPL - as captains in 2013, and as mentor and player in 2023 - that has defined public perception of the equation between the two. In IPL 2024, however, the two were seen to be more friendly with each other in public. When asked about his relationship with Kohli, Gambhir said the "perception was far from reality." And when Kohli was asked about it during the season, he said: "I hugged Naveen [ul-Haq, with whom he had an altercation in IPL 2023], and then the other day, Gauti bhai came and hugged me … We're not kids anymore."

Gambhir comes across as a firebrand in public, will he be as aggressive as a coach?

It's true that Gambhir has been involved in a fair share of heated moments - on social media and in person - over a number of issues ranging from cricket to politics. However, he is believed to be someone who goes to great lengths to stick up for those in his team. For example, his altercation with Kohli in IPL 2023 is believed to be a result of him not taking kindly to a verbal spat between Kohli and the LSG fast bowler Naveen-ul-Haq. And in 2017, he had a run-in with the Delhi state coach over the handling of youngsters in the team. Gambhir has been outspoken against giving an individual excessive limelight in a team game, a philosophy he followed during his mentoring stints at LSG and KKR.

So what impact did Gambhir have as mentor during KKR's run to the IPL 2024 title?

In IPL 2021, 22 and 23, Sunil Narine had scored only 154 runs and had stopped opening for KKR. Once Gambhir returned to the set up as mentor in 2024, he convinced Narine to go back up the order and to play without pressure. Narine went on to score 488 runs at a strike rate of 180.74 to go with his 17 wickets, his best bowling performance in an IPL season since 2018.
Off the field, Gambhir is believed to have been a mediating influence between the head coach Chandrakant Pandit, whose old-school methods brought huge success in domestic cricket, and a number of overseas players who found Pandit's approach unusual.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo