In post-Gambhir era, champions KKR face ''Make or Break'' moment again under Pandit and Co

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Chandrakant Pandit

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Kolkata: Transition is in the air for both Kolkata Knight Riders and Team India as Gautam Gambhir steps away from the franchise in pursuit of national objectives.

After he led KKR to their twin triumph in 2012 and 2014, the winning mantra somehow went missing. Despite their best efforts the silverware continued to slip through their fingers -- finalists in 2021; playoffs from 2016 to 2018; and group stage exits in five seasons.

With no breakthrough in sight, Shah Rukh Khan finally turned to his trusted ally: Gambhir.

"Make it or break it. This is your own franchise," Shah Rukh had told Gambhir when he asked him to rejoin the franchise as a mentor.

There was no cricket talk henceforth between the two and it was 'Guru Gambhir' all the way.

From his bold decision to acquire Mitchell Starc at an IPL record price of Rs 24.75-crore to backing their lead spinner Sunil Narine to go all-out as an opener, his choices became the talking points of the IPL-2024.

Without much experience in coaching, Gambhir became the front-runner for the most high-profile and high-pressure job in world cricket.

But with Gambhir leaving KKR after the highs of 2024 and the team's assistant coach Abhishek Nayar, who heads the KKR Academy, likely to join him in the Team India dressing room, the purple franchise faces an immediate void.

KKR head coach Chandrakant Pandit, who has one more season's contract left with the franchise, termed it a "big challenge".

"We will enter the IPL as the defending champions, so it's going to be a big thing. Every year you play, every tournament you compete, is a big challenge for coaches, support staff, and players," Pandit told PTI.

"Everyone contributed, and similarly, Gautam, coming with his great experience as a captain and mentor, also helped the team. Obviously, his inputs and mentoring of the players equally benefitted.

"It's going to be a big challenge and a responsibility for us to rebuild the side but I'm sure we will do a fine job," he said looking ahead to the IPL 2025 Mega Auction which is happened every three years.

The teams are allowed to retain three players while one released player can be bought through using RTM (right-to-match) card.

There is still some time left for the mega auction likely to be in early next year, but it remains to be seen if KKR hold on to their old warhorses in Narine and Andre Russell, the two players who were retained before IPL2022 mega auction.

"It's just one month or so after the IPL. We have to keep working as we do every year. We will discuss. As of now there has not been any discussions all our options are open." "The important mega auction is coming up. We will have to think about the players' roles and then see the combinations. We will have to study like every other team," added the astute tactician, who had coached Vidarbha to successive Ranji titles in 2018 and 2019 and then handed Madhya Pradesh their maiden triumph in 2022.

Personally, Pandit will miss Gambhir and the discussions they had in the course of their title-winning campaign in 2024.

"Obviously yes, We had a good rapport, discussing team strategies and planning with the captain to achieve better combinations. Obviously, we will miss the communication we had.

But he has a bigger responsibility on his shoulders, Pandit added.

"We're extremely elated with Gambhir being appointed as the head coach of the Indian cricket team. I'm sure he will do a wonderful job, as he has been doing over the last few years.

"He has been pivotal for the success of KKR over the years, and also played big roles in India winning the World Cups in 2007 (T20I) and 2011 (ODI).

"He carries a lot of experience and is definitely the right choice. I'm really happy for BCCI.

"Yesterday, I messaged him, congratulated him. It's a prestigious job and a prestigious role he is going to play for our country. Obviously, I was very happy to message him. He also messaged me back.

Asked whether he was sounded out about Nayar too following suit of Gambhir, Pandit said: "This is also in the news." "He (Nayar) has also done a great job with KKR for the last few years. He was equally valued to us. If someone gets the opportunity to excel in their career, one should be happy about that," he signed off.

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