IPL 2018: How will Gautam Gambhir fare in his homecoming?

IPL 2018: How will Gautam Gambhir fare in his homecoming?

He had endured three good seasons. He was one of the team's key players. Yet after three unfruitful seasons, he was relieved.

On the lookout for a new opportunity, he found a new home, in far away east. Away from the toxic climate of Delhi, Gautam Gambhir was picked by the Kolkata Knight Riders, a franchise looking to rebuild its image, that had taken a beating since season 1.

Still, at his pomp as an international cricketer, Gambhir began to work slowly in molding the side looking to add what was missing: the flair, the style, but most importantly the fight.

In Dav Whatmore first and Trevor Bayliss later, he found allies with similar mentality and together they set on a mission to make the Knight Riders a new side, ready to compete and beat the best.

Indications that this was to be a different unit from the talented yet muddled unit under Sourav Ganguly were evident from Season 1 under Gambhir when the Knight Riders entered the playoffs for the first time.

For a general observer, it seemed like they lacked an 'X' factor, who would lead them either with bat or ball.

Enter Sunil Narine.

The West Indian mystery spinner walked into the KKR setup and aided by an encouraging Gambhir, took to the IPL like fish to water, helping them win their maiden title.

Two years on, the side found itself in troubled waters after a torrid UAE leg.

Like Narine in 2012, they required a player to step up and create the resurgence.

Enter Robin Uthappa.

The Karnataka right-hander promoted to open the innings in the second half of the competition complemented Gambhir extremely well, finishing as the leading run-getter of the season and also helping them win the title.

Since those hallowed days, however, the Knight Riders have had mixed seasons under Gambhir's leadership and was not retained by the side ahead of the 2018 auctions.

Under his leadership, the team transformed itself from a mediocre bunch, not to be taken too seriously to a force to reckon with, filled with players capable of winning a match on their own.

On Monday, when Gambhir returns to the Eden Gardens, he will not only be coming back to a ground that changed his IPL career forever, he will also return to a city, which he can almost call as much of a home as Delhi.

Right from his first season with the franchise in 2011, he struck a chord with the fans that remained intact until his last season in 2017. With him, in charge, the passionate fan base of Knight Riders knew that their beloved side would fight until the end, for every minute of the game.

He himself contributed in a big way with the bat, scoring 3345 runs in 122 matches over seven seasons between 2011 and 2017.

But earlier this year, the franchise felt the need for a new start and at the forefront of that was the future of their leader.

Such decisions are usually harder than any other. Ask Manchester United what went through in their mind when they had to take a call on Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009 or Wayne Rooney in 2017.

Ask Rafael Nadal about his decision to split with Uncle Toni, under whom he has learned everything there is to learn about tennis.

The Knight Riders management decided it was time to move on. It was time to begin under a new regime, to set newer goals and hire a new man to achieve them.

Once he was not in their plans, Gambhir too made it clear to the management to not bid for him, thereby closing the long association once-and-it-for-all.

The Knight Riders' loss became Delhi's gain and as the visitors head to the Eden Gardens for their game, a sense of nostalgia will surround the venue, making its presence felt through the capacity crowd that is expected to fill the stands.

The crowd has had to find itself divided in opinion once in the past as to which team to support when the Sourav Ganguly-led Pune Warriors India arrived in 2012.

Six years on, they find themselves in a similar spot. What will their reaction be this time around?

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