Gautam Gambhir will soon starting coaching the Indian team and Sarah Waris looks at his immediate and long-term goals.

Gautam Gambhir will soon start his much-anticipated coaching tenure with the Indian team. Sarah Waris looks at his immediate and long-term goals and challenges.

Gautam Gambhir, India's new head coach, brings with him a reputation of being a hard, serious taskmaster, who admittedly refuses to let go of his sombre spirit till the game at hand is won.

Kolkata Knight Riders fans will also acknowledge that Gambhir's layers of passion and the no-nonsense win-at-all attitude have been responsible for giving them all three IPL trophies they have won, with his refusal to back down from a battle making him a local favourite.

However, it is also something that Gambhir will have to balance to perfection as he sets out on his new mission where his man-management skills with a bigger pool of players will be under scrutiny.

A sea of challenges await Gambhir

The left-hander has had a limited but fairly successful tenure as the mentor of two IPL teams, Lucknow Super Giants and Kolkata Knight Riders, where he had a bigger hand in decision-making and in selecting the exact players he wanted in the squads compared to what might be available for him with the national team. Urging KKR to go all out for the unknown Sunil Narine in 2011 when he was captain or splurging the purse for Mitchell Starc this year, his moves largely turned out to be masterstrokes. But his role with India will be vastly different and working in tandem with various policy-makers will be key as he helps them navigate an intense schedule during a period of transition.

The BCCI’s refusal to opt for split coaching for the different formats also intensifies the challenges for Gambhir. India’s Test, ODI and T20I teams are at contrasting stages, requiring separate approaches as the formats move ahead rapidly in their own ways.

He will inherit a T20I side in its nascency following the retirements of three veterans after the T20 World Cup win, with several skilled youngsters vying for a place in the first-choice team. India’s next T20I skipper has not been officially announced either, though Hardik Pandya remains in the pipeline to take over from Rohit Sharma. Identifying a group of players who can help defend India’s title in 2026 together with him will be a priority.

Gambhir has also been vocal about bowlers being crucial in helping the team win T20 games and we could see an influx of new specialist pacers and spinners for the format in the next couple of seasons.

The ODI team is comparatively settled and with Rohit and Kohli expected to go on till at least the 2025 Champions Trophy if not the 2027 ODI World Cup, building onto the successes of the 2023 World Cup should be the easier of the tasks at hand.

Test cricket will be keenly watched. Arguably the format where Rohit and Dravid tasted the least success when compared to their lofty standards with numerous tactical errors haunting India in last year’s World Test Championship final, Gambhir will immediately oversee two tough overseas tours to Australia and England in the next 15 months, both of which will consist of five games each.

India’s recent successes in the two countries have boiled down to the proactiveness of the captain and the coaching staff. Gambhir does not have former experience coaching a Test side and will only have two home series against Bangladesh and New Zealand to gear up for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy later this year, which will also determine India’s standing in the 2023-25 WTC table. To add to the challenge, several new faces in the middle order are yet to establish themselves.

Though not imminently, Test cricket is also a format where India could see several retirements in the next few years. R Ashwin has struggled with fitness in the recent past and revealed that he thought of walking away last year. Rohit, already 37, might bow out after the ongoing edition of the World Test Championship.

While intimidating, it also allows Gambhir an opportunity to impact Indian cricket on a larger scale. A smoother transition - replacing ageing players with newer faces or grooming the next skipper among the many options available - will allow the team to wear a settled look despite the internal shufflings. Gone wrong and India risk going the Sri Lanka way, with the Island Nation still struggling to replace the warhorses that got them immense success on either side of the 00s.

Gambhir’s personality can be a double-edged sword

The temperamental Gambhir follows two head coaches who were known for their breezy nature and their ability to take criticism with a sense of humour. Gambhir’s name (literally meaning serious) reflects his persona in many ways and a recent statement on how the fans “don’t come to watch me smile, they come to watch me win,” further highlights his mindset towards the game.

Known for backing his teammates to the hilt, there have also been instances when he has let out his fury on them for sub-standard showings.

During KKR’s clash with RCB in 2017 at the Eden Gardens, the home team were cruising at 65-1 in the sixth over before a shambolic collapse saw them get bowled out for 131. Teammates later revealed how a speech from a furious Gambhir, then the skipper of the franchise, during the innings break spurred them on as they famously bowled out RCB for 49. A charged-up speech from the mentor after KKR’s record defeat to Punjab Kings also turned around their fortunes, with the team not losing a game till their title run.

But in an Indian team with big names and bigger egos, Gambhir will have to adopt a milder outlook. In the past, the tenure of stern coaches in India has ended on an ugly note, with Greg Chappell and Anil Kumble being recent examples, and the BCCI would be wary of a similar outcome.

Unlike franchise cricket where the condensed and cut-throat schedule allows for minimal scope of experiment and failure, international cricket will include tours and series which will be meant specifically for experimentation and grooming youngsters amidst the high-profile clashes. Results will often not be the priority in such events. That will go against Gambhir's win-at-all-costs nature. Being a national coach also directly impacts the lives of young players all year round, as against a two-month league. These are stiff challenges that Gambhir will have to expertly navigate.

There's already a lot of pre-conceived notion on how Gambhir's tenure could end up, but he can take a leaf out of Shastri's notebook, who claimed that his biggest responsibility as India coach was looking after the emotions of his players instead of advising them on how to play the game. It is not to say that Gambhir should shed his being entirely, for it is what has made him a successful player and mentor. All he needs to do is adopt a simplistic outlook, walk with the players as one and build on past achievements in this new era for Indian cricket.

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