Calcutta: When they take on the Delhi DareDevils in the second match of CLT20 2012, the Kolkata Knight Riders will be going in with a huge reputation to maintain and vast expectations to live up to. Gautam Gambhir's team not only has the tag of 2012 IPL champions, but they are also a formidable unit.
In the pre-match media interaction, while confident of his team's high pedigree, the KKR captain refused to burden his team with the 'favourites' tag.
"We're not looking at ourselves as favourites in this competition because the format doesn't make us that... We're not the favourites," Gambhir said after practice in Centurion.
"One thing we know, however, is that we have a lot of potential. When I look around in the dressing room, I see some of the legends of the game and some very talented players. If we play to our potential, we will go a long way in the tournament."
Jacques Kallis and Gambhir himself have been the pillars of KKR's batting for two years and for the team to play to its potential, KKR's two best batsmen will have to overcome the lean T20 patch that accompanied them in the World T20 in Sri Lanka recently. The captain however, ruled out the rigidity of form in the shortest format, saying, "in the T20 format you're never in or out of form."
"Talking about the World Twenty20, this is a format when sometimes when you're in outstanding nick and you don't score runs. At times, when you're not in good form, you get out there, express yourself and get a good score.
"When playing against quality opposition, you need to take risks, which sometimes come off and at times, don't. It's very difficult to maintain those high standards in all three forms of the game and humanly not possible to keep doing it all the time."
Besides, Gambhir also felt that the worth of someone like Kallis cannot be measured only by runs and wickets.
"More than the runs and the wickets, Jacques has been a fantastic role-model for all of us. His attitude off the field has been brilliant. He is selfless and willing to do everything that the team wants him to do. That's why he's the legend that he is and that's the kind of people we want in our team. His selfless quality is his biggest strength, which rubs off on most of us when we play with him," Gambhir said.
KKR have some fantastic overseas players in the team and Gambhir believes, besides their skills, it's their ability to unite with the rest of the team that has made the side successful. Camaraderie, according to the skipper, is the biggest strength of his team.
And as they aim to clock a title double in 2012, the captain wants just one thing from his players: "Go out there, watch the ball and react to it. This format gives you the freedom to express yourself. Hopefully, we do just that and play fearless cricket."
"We gel well together as a team. When we gathered here as a team, it didn't feel like we're meeting after five months. It was like the IPL just got over and we're still together.
"That's the kind of spirit that has made KKR achieve what we achieved in the last IPL."
The conditions in South Africa will be unfamiliar to some of the domestic players but Gambhir feels they will be alright with the guidance from some of the experienced players in the team.
"The conditions and atmosphere are completely different and it's a great learning curve for some of the guys who have never been here before. I think that's where people who have prior experience of playing here will play a huge role.
"Someone like Kallis, who knows the conditions well, Brendon McCullum and myself, who have travelled here before... if we guys can share our experience of playing here with the guys who haven't been here, will be a huge plus."
Always a players' captain, Gambhir said the biggest part of leading a team is to win the players over. "The most important thing is that I believe in my players. Whether or not I trust my gut feeling, I trust my players.
"I know that if I throw the ball to someone, he won't ask me any questions. The most important thing for a leader is to have players who are willing to do anything for him and I have that kind of team. "