It's not been an easy last few months for Gautam Gambhir. Till some time ago, his position at the top of the Indian batting order in all formats appeared secure and he seemed next in line to take over as India captain. Right now, he isn't even part of the Indian team and is in charge of a team that has struggled consistently in the sixth edition of the Pepsi Indian Premier League. Wisden India caught up with Gambhir to discuss his captaincy, his attitude on the field and his future. Excerpts:
First dropped from the Test team, then out of the one-day team too for the Champions Trophy. Where do you think your international career stands at the moment?
It is standing right there, challenging me. I am ready for it. At the moment, my focus is only on making a comeback into the Indian team in ODIs and Tests. I am not thinking too far beyond that.
What does captaincy mean to you?
I see captaincy as leadership, which sometimes has to be done by pulling from the front and at times by pushing from the back. Pulling is largely about extending your hand and helping a teammate out of a rut and pushing will be about helping them come out of complacency, if any.
Another thing is that captaincy is not a designation; it is a means to leave a legacy. Sometimes, the evolution of a system or a team is far more important than what the scorelines read. The trouble is that in our country, we think captaincy is the end but I think it is a means towards reaching the end.
You have led India to six ODI wins in as many games as captain, and took Kolkata Knight Riders to the IPL title last season. What would you attribute those successes to?
I think it is the team. I am a great believer that a captain is as good as his team. There are so many examples. Ricky Ponting's Australia were a dominant group till the time the likes of (Adam) Gilchrist, (Matthew) Hayden, (Justin) Langer, (Shane) Warne, (Glenn) McGrath and (Jason) Gillespie were there. The moment these guys retired around the same time, Australia started to lose under Ponting. I was lucky that I led a professional bunch of players, whether for India, Delhi or KKR. This year's IPL, somehow, has been very different and very challenging for all of us.
What is the leadership style you have brought to Kolkata Knight Riders?
This is my third season with the KKR team and I am honoured to be leading that team. I always wanted to lead my teams with transparency and honesty. For any system, these are the two most important virtues. In our set-up, everyone knows that if a player is not selected, there are no conspiracy theories. I apologise to the players who are being dropped, give them reasons and then move on. We try to create a nice atmosphere where players feel wanted.
Why hasn't your team looked settled this season?
We have worked a lot on trying to create a new composition, but this year we never looked settled. Batting-wise, there were not many meaningful compositions, but I think our bowling was much better except the odd game. Basically, the combinations haven't worked out for us.
How important is your own batting form for Kolkata?
I won't want to single myself out; I think everyone's form is important. You can say that myself and (Jacques) Kallis, being the senior batsmen in the team, should take a lot more responsibility. Before the tournament started, I told batsmen like (Manvinder) Bisla, Manoj Tiwary, Debabrata (Das), Yusuf (Pathan) and (Eoin) Morgan that they should go and play their natural game while me and Kallis have the role of absorbing the pressure. But due to lack of runs and confidence, the roles haven't been played well.
How do you deal with the seemingly unending poor batting form of Yusuf Pathan?
I believe in backing players and helping them out with their game. It is the same pull-push theory in captaincy. I always believe that Yusuf is a match-winner, who has struggled. But dropping him was never a solution. Taking him along always was. So that is what we have done.
What are your views on aggression? You haven't been shy of having a go, either at your teammates or at players from the opposition.
I think sometimes it is about perception. In my entire international career, I have always reacted and not initiated a fight, whether it was taking on Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal or Shane Watson. The nature of the beast is such that reactions are always bigger than the actions, but actions are the root cause.
In any case, I don't know how to be diplomatic or subtle. That is the tough part for me. Sometimes, I have also been accused of things that I haven't done. For example, the alleged altercation with Rahul (Dravid) bhai; I have always maintained that it never happened, I was only speaking to the umpire and telling him to ask Shane Watson and Brad Hogg not to abuse Bisla. But I think because of my earlier altercation with Virat (Kohli), it seemed I had another one with Rahul bhai.