New Delhi: Victorious Kolkata Knight Riders captain Gautam Gambhir, in the first part of an extensive interview with CNN-IBN's sports editor Gaurav Kalra, speaks about winning the IPL, what the victory means for the city of Kolkata and franchise co-owner Shah Rukh Khan, how KKR's success was a team effort and why he doesn't deserve any of the credit for successfully captaining the side to the title.
Gaurav Kalra: Gautam, I want to start off by asking you about your Bengali. Have you started picking up a few phrases?
Gautam Gambhir: As I've said in all my interviews, I've become a Bengali boy and need to start learning some Bengali, so next year when I reach Kolkata for the IPL hopefully I'll be a complete Bengali boy.
GK: In Delhi we wont be too happy to here that, because you are out-and-out a Delhi boy, but that city has really taken to you. They’ve embraced you openly and you've reciprocated that.
GG: Absolutely. I think when I was picked for KKR last year there was a lot of talk [as to] whether people would support me or support KKR. For whatever reason, the love they've shown for me has been great. In all my interviews I've said that we were going to play for the people of Kolkata and they deserve every bit of it. The kind of support they've shown … not only last year but in the first four years when things weren't going KKR’s way, they supported the team and stood by us throughout. The kinds of crowds we've got for the games last year and this year has been tremendous, so I think they deserve every bit of what they are getting. They deserved to win the IPL and we’ve delivered.
GK: Yes, that you have. I will talk to you about the IPL in the course of this interview, Gautam, but I wanted to ask you: You’ve just come off this extraordinary parade, and you’ve experienced these kinds of things in the past when you won the Twenty20 World Cup and all of that … what did the players feel? There was a lot of talk about how these celebrations were over the top. After all, you’re just a private club which won a private league. Did you feel it was just the passionate support of Kolkata?
GG: It’s the passion. No other city could have done that and this shows the passion and love for the sport and the kind of support that KKR has got over the past five years. For me personally, I felt that what KKR did over the first three years was disappointing and I totally agree with them [fans in Kolkata] but they’ve shown their love for KKR. Obviously, if you don’t deliver then they will be disappointed. Suddenly you end up winning the IPL …
GK: You weren’t uncomfortable at any point with what happened during that parade? It was very hot; there was a lot of singing and dancing. It didn’t make you uncomfortable?
GG: Sometimes it [comfort] takes a back seat when you see the passion and excitement and love they show, so I think the entire people of Kolkata was fantastic. Hopefully, they can keep supporting the team in the future as well.
GK: I know this a slightly unfair question but I may as well ask it. You’ve been a part of two World Cup-winning campaigns in the past – the Twenty20 World Cup in which you did very well and the 50-over World Cup where again you did so well in the final, and the nation celebrated that. Now you’ve experienced this [the KKR celebrations] … is it a fair comparison in terms of what the emotions as a player were after you achieved victory for KKR?
GG: There’s nothing bigger than the country. The World Cup was very special and will always be special. But I think Kolkata deserved this; they really needed it. Especially, because they’ve supported the team throughout and they’ve been very disappointed in the first four IPLs, especially in the first three, though I think we did pretty well in the last one. They deserved all this. All the emotions which came out in the parade and the excitement were fantastic to look at.
GK: A lot of people have been saying, Gautam, that a large part of the credit for this victory goes to your captaincy … in the way that you led this team. You have been talking about how this is a team sport and that it’s about the team and that a captain is only as good as the team. But there have been good teams in the past who have had good players but haven’t done as well. How much of this has to be attributed to the way you’ve led KKR?
GG: Nothing. I don’t deserve any bit of it. I’ve been saying it throughout …
GK: You’re just being modest.
GG: Not at all. I will always stand by what I’ve said – the captain is only as good as his team and I’ve always believed that individuals can only contribute up to a certain level. It’s the players on the park that will win you games. I think the one thing we’ve changed this year, and what I’ve always discussed in team meeting, is that we need to start appreciating the small contributions. I’m a very strong believer in that small contributions will win you games. Major contributions can only make headlines. I think people can talk a lot about someone getting 80 or 90 or a hundred or a five-for, [but] the small contributions like in the final if Manoj [Tiwary] hadn’t scored those two boundaries then no one would have spoken about [Manvinder] Bisla’s unbelievable innings. That was the best innings I’ve seen. Or if Shakib Al Hasan hadn’t scored that boundary then nobody would have talked about KRR. It’s these small contributions that end up winning games. I think the big contributions can only make headlines.
GK: Yes, the headlines have been made, and you talk about the smaller contributions and how this is a team sport, but some seasoned pros in your team have been praising your captaincy to the skies. These are guys who have played under exceptional captains in the past. Brett Lee, Jacques Kallis … experienced pros that over the years have played under exceptional captains. When players like that position you as a special captain – you’ve got to accept that you’re doing something right.
GG: Look, for me whenever I’ve been given a job – whether its KKR or India or Delhi – I’ve tried to do it with complete honesty. When you’re honest and very fair, this is what people will talk about. I’ve always believe that it’s never about individuals. If people or individuals want credit then they should be playing some other sport, not cricket. Cricket is a team sport and that’s why it is called a team sport. Credit needs to go to the entire team. Unfortunately in a country like India it’s all about the individuals. We all wanted to prove to everyone – ‘lets stop giving credit to individuals; let’s give credit to the team and to the nation’. It’s about the team and the nation, not about individuals. Let’s stop worshipping individuals. Let’s grow up. That’s what KKR did this season and that’s why we were successful.
GK: That’s probably a message to be passed out in the media from you …
GG: Totally. I’m a very strong believer in this. The time has come that we shouldn’t be talking about individuals. Let’s talk about a country or a team.
GK: I’ll keep the individual questions to a limit, but will still ask them. You’ve now been KKR captain for two years; one year the team made the playoffs and the other year they won the IPL. Let’s talk about the Sourav Ganguly issue because that is something you get asked often, and it’s a fair question because he is such an icon in Kolkata. Did you feel when you went into this job, Gautam, that ‘gosh, what am I getting myself into? I’m replacing the one man which Kolkata admires with such ferocity.’
GG: Never. I was not replacing anyone. I have my own identity, my own passion, and my own skills. I didn’t even think of replacing anyone. Not even once did I think that I had replaced Sourav Ganguly. Time moves on, things move on, and you need to move on as well. KKR’s owners decided to move on and they gave me a responsibility and a job that I wanted to do with honesty. I wasn’t thinking about anything else.
GG: You never felt any resentment, Gautam, from the people in the city or from cricketers in the city? Here’s this boy from the outside taking over the job which belonged to our man?
GG: I think I should discuss this. Before the Pune Warriors game [at Eden Gardens] there was a lot of hype that Bengal will be divided again, and the kind of support that I got from people serving us food in the hotel to the common man, people who were driving cars, cab drivers, everyone said ‘KKR is our team and we will go all-out to support KKR’. That is what forced me to say that there is only one team that belongs to Kolkata, and that is KKR. The kind of support we got was not about individuals. Kolkata or Bengal is not about individuals. For that matter, India is not about individuals. Kolkata is about KKR. That was the support we got when we played against Pune Warriors and that’s what the strength of KKR is. That’s what makes KKR what it is.
GK: I want to ask you about one other aspect of KKR, who’s not a member of your squad, and that’s your owner. He’s such a high-profile man in India, he’s got so many things that he can show for his life, but it seems that the last few days have been one of the great moments of his life. What has it been like for you to work for Shah Rukh Khan?
GG: An unbelievable experience. He’s a tremendous person. He’s been an inspiration, especially coming from a background like that, coming from the performing arts. He knows the ups and downs of every profession so he knows how it feels when you don’t do well. He’s someone who has never interfered in cricketing matters. You must have heard a lot; that Shah Rukh the owner must interfere a lot. In the last two years he hasn’t interfered even once in any of the cricketing matters, and that is what makes him such a special person. And yet, he knows that if someone is not doing well he should not criticize him. He’d rather put a hand on his shoulder and give him confidence, because he himself has seen ups and downs. I think it’s a very special relationship that I have with him.
GK: Interesting. If you can talk a little more about this, Gautam, because you are one of India’s most prominent cricketers, and you’ve been playing cricket for India for a long time now and he [Shah Rukh] is what he is in the Indian film industry. You would assume there would be differences, because there are two people who have their own set of ideas and way of doing things and who come from their own success stories …
GG: Absolutely, but I still feel very lucky and honored to have a person like him. There were times last year, like when we were playing against Mumbai Indians and they managed to get 21 runs off the last over. Everyone was disappointed, but Shah Rukh came to the dressing room and put his hand on everyone’s shoulders and tried to give confidence. That says a lot about the quality of the person and I think he’s been very low-profile which has been fantastic. Apart from winning the game against Delhi [Daredevils] and the final he has kept his emotions to himself, and the kind of support – forget about cricket – that he has given us off the field has been tremendous.
GK: And he can do cartwheels at the age of 45 or whatever he is, which is incredible!
GG: That just shows that he has a long way to go (laughs).
GK: No offers to act in a cameo in a film that Shah Rukh Khan will produce? Anything you ask now, Gautam, will be given.
GG: The only thing I ask is that he remains the same person he’s been over the last two years, because I’ve always believed in one thing – that KKR should be the team that does well on the field, not off it.
The second part of this interview will run on Saturday.