Kevin Pietersen and Gautam Gambhir: A Tale of 2 Captains in IPL 2014

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Kevin Pietersen and Gautam Gambhir: A Tale of 2 Captains in IPL 2014
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The Kolkata Knight Riders broke a run of four consecutive defeats in the seventh edition of the Indian Premier League by defeating the Delhi Daredevils by eight wickets at the Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi, on Wednesday.

Doing so, KKR now sit at the top of the mid-table scrum in fourth place with six points in eight matches. The Daredevils, in the process, succumbed to their third straight loss and were banished to the bottom of the table with just two wins in eight games.

It's often said that a team is only as good as its players and more so dependent on how the captain steers the ship.

Prior to this game, neither Delhi skipper Kevin Pietersen nor his Kolkata counterpart Gautam Gambhir would have been happy with their respective teams' showing, with both sides having just two wins to boast of from seven games played. A loss would almost certainly end any hopes of qualifying for the knockouts.

Pietersen and Gambhir began this IPL season in similar circumstances. Both players were out of form, had been discarded by their respective national teams and hadn't played international cricket in a while. Both were in dire need of runs and knew that their individual form and confidence would affect their IPL teams in a big way.

At the halfway stage of the season, a comparison of the duo's performance makes for interesting analysis.

 

Kevin Pietersen

Since being dropped by England following the 2013-14 Ashes, Pietersen would have wanted to erase memories of the last three months by having a good first outing as an out-and-out franchise player.

Purchased by the Delhi Daredevils for a whopping $1.5 million, Pietersen was certain to be at the centre of all attraction. With no international cricket in the horizon for him, he was supposed to take IPL 2014 by storm. This was supposed to be his season where everyone expected him to make the England team regret their decision to axe him.

However, three months of relative inertia evidently isn't that easy to shake off, even for a player of his calibre, as he soon found out.

In his five innings in the season so far, the 33-year-old has managed just 62 runs, his only performance of note being an unbeaten 26 in Delhi's win over the Mumbai Indians.

Pietersen has looked scratchy, uncertain and confused on the field, and is showing not even a shadow of the form he brought out during England's tour of India in the winter of 2012-13, where he scored 338 runs in four Test matches on square turners.

Pietersen has always been one of the better players of spin in international cricket but struggled to negotiate the turn of bowlers such as Shakib al Hasan, Karn Sharma, Amit Mishra, Pravin Tambe and Sunil Narine in the IPL. He has tried sweeping, reverse-sweeping, driving, coming down the track, but nothing seemed to connect.

The tipping point came on Wednesday against Kolkata when Pietersen got so frustrated with his rustiness and inability to connect bat and ball that the moment he managed to find some contact, he scampered off for a single that was never there.

He had no option but to continue with his run back to the pavilion as the non-striker, Murali Vijay, wasn't even remotely interested—and rightly so.

Pietersen's lack of confidence and edginess in his batting seems to be taking a toll on Delhi as a unit, too, given the captain's inability to inspire even himself, let alone the rest of the team.

He has chosen to come in at No. 3, an important position in the batting line-up, and has all but wasted a crucial wicket. Delhi have been left to wonder whether their fate would have been different had JP Duminy (280 runs in eight matches) and Dinesh Karthik (193 runs in eight matches) perhaps batted higher up the order.

Even while in the field, Delhi just have not cut the image of a side that is confident of defending scores of even 160-plus, as was the case on Wednesday. They have looked hapless, having now lost five matches by margins of six wickets or more.

Pietersen and Delhi have some reflecting to do ahead of their next game on Saturday against Hyderabad, again at the Kotla where they have now lost nine out of their last 10 matches.

After all the initial hype, the irony is cruel, considering Pietersen now finds himself in the last chance saloon. Another failure on Saturday would almost certainly warrant another axe for England's highest run-scorer across all formats.

 

Gautam Gambhir

Gambhir's start to the season was no better than Pietersen's. The 32-year-old, whose last international match was in January 2013, was also in a last-chance saloon coming into the tournament.

Any hopes of starting off on a high crashed deep into the abyss as he recorded a hat-trick of ducks in his first three matches.

In the fourth game, against Kings XI Punjab, he managed to get off the mark but was dismissed for what he described on Wednesday in the post-match presentation as the most difficult run he had ever scored in his life.

Just when calls to sack him were getting louder, Gambhir responded with a determined 44-ball 45 against the Rajasthan Royals in a match that ended in a tie and an eventual loss in the Super Over. The result bought him some more time, but in his next game, against the Chennai Super Kings, he was run out for six while attempting what was a suicidal run.

It took the reverse fixture against Rajasthan for the Indian fans to see shades of the Gambhir of yore. Chasing 171 to win, he started off calmly but fashioned his way to a courageous half-century, sharing a 121-run opening stand with Robin Uthappa before his dismissal (54 off 34 balls) sparked an extraordinary collapse of six wickets in eight deliveries.

A stunned Gambhir could only watch from the dug-out as his team failed to take advantage of the impetus provided by the openers and fell short by 10 runs.

It would take a tremendous amount of resolve to get over such a heartbreaking loss, and some pundits had already begun writing KKR's eulogy for the season.

However, Gambhir was having none of it as he scripted yet another century stand with Uthappa against Delhi and did enough to ensure his team crossed the finish line this time, chasing 161.

Gambhir's innings of 69 from 56 balls on Wednesday reminded everyone of his capabilities. All the trademark Gambhir shots were back: the swipe-pull off the back foot, the late square-cuts on the toes, the inside-out drives through the covers and the lofted whack over mid-on coming down the track.

Kolkata's pocket-sized warrior and captain was deservedly named man-of-the-match for his match-winning innings. With six games to go, the win, especially after the disappointing loss to Rajasthan, could give them the right boost to string together a winning run that would secure a place in the knockouts.

Gambhir's return to form also appears to have had a psychological effect on his leadership. Unlike Pietersen, who has looked quite lifeless and rather clueless in the field, Gambhir has marshalled his troops well and made the right calls with regard to bowling and fielding changes.

Despite the fact that their seasons are now headed separate ways, both Pietersen and Gambhir would know that half the season is still left to play.

While Gambhir has the task of steering his team to what could be a remarkable second title triumph, Pietersen would hope somehow to find some form and save his team further embarrassment.

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