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Controversies 'triggered' Delhi's revival - Gambhir

Gautam Gambhir steers the ball on to the off side AFP

It was only last season and earlier this year that Delhi's on-field performance was shrouded by off-field controversies. Their captain Gautam Gambhir had altercations with coach KP Bhaskar, and both were later summoned by the High Court-appointed Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA) administrator. There were allegations of Gambhir abusing Bhaskar, reports of Bhaskar making some youngsters feel "insecure" and "dividing the dressing room".

They failed to qualify for the knockouts in both the Ranji Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy. While they won only two of their eight first-class matches, in the six one-day games, they managed three wins but it wasn't enough.

Despite the quarrels and squabbles, the DDCA continued with Bhaskar as coach but changed the captain from Gambhir to Ishant Sharma. When the fast bowler was playing for India, they were led by Rishabh Pant, who turned 20 at the beginning of the season On Friday, they will play a Ranji final having been unbeaten all season.

"Sometimes it is good when you feel bad about something that has been said about you or your team or your association"

Gautam Gambhir

Gambhir is their highest run-scorer so far and is among the top 10 this season, with an average of 63.20. It seems like the events in the Delhi dressing room over the last 12 months have acted as a "trigger" for the team to re-focus.

"DDCA has been in the news for all the wrong reasons," Gambhir tells ESPNcricinfo. "Deep down, each and every player that I have played with or the support staff that I have been involved with... [for us] it hurts. Sometimes it is good when you feel bad about something that has been said about you or your team or your association. That hurt actually was the trigger point.

"There's a lot said about the difference of opinion that I had with the coach, and that was taken to various extensions. And that led to a bloody-minded attitude which was only about winning the competition and winning the next game. We wanted to show the world that it's not only the negative that exists in the Delhi dressing room. There is positivity, there are things we want to do to restore the glory days of the association which has given me my identity and a platform to play for India."

Gambhir, like he often is on the field, talks with sentiment and passion about his state side. He expresses barely any remorse about how things unfolded with the coach or why the captain was changed and not the coach. In his own words, Gambhir now plays the role of a "big brother" and is optimistic about Pant's leadership skill.

"In any format you play, the captain is as good as his team, and it holds here as well," Gambhir says. "I think Rishabh is learning, the good thing is that he wants to learn, he wants to evolve as a player and as a captain. Rishabh can plan and strategise, but if you can't pick 20 wickets, then all those plans will be canned. So it doesn't really matter whether you are a young captain or an experienced captain. If you are determined to achieve your goals, that's what matters and the bloody-mindedness that a sportsperson has to win a competition. We've seen with the Australians, the team that Steve Waugh led or Mark Taylor led or Ricky Ponting led; you could have made anyone the captain and they would have done what was required."

The decision to name Pant the new captain may have helped Delhi after the controversies. He is from a new generation. He will have a fresh perspective and would not carry the baggage of the previous seasons when Delhi could not make the knockouts. In a way, their performance in 2017-18 has made up for all the disappointment.

Delhi are now in their first Ranji final since the 2007-08 season, when Gambhir was the captain and had scored a duck and an unbeaten century in a chase of 230 to lift the trophy. Now, Gambhir is the senior-most player in a squad where only one other player - Vikas Tokas - is older than 30. Vikas Mishra, their 24-year old left-arm spinner, has a massive 32 wickets and medium-pacer Navdeep Saini is one short of his 30th victim this season. Apart from their three draws, they have registered three innings wins, including a thrashing of Bengal in the semi-final.

"For a sportsperson, nothing can be more pleasurable, nervous, anxious and at the same time satisfying"

Gautam Gambhir on playing a final

"We are just one step away from recreating what we did in 2007 and it's a really proud feeling," Gambhir says. "The young boys are playing the first final of their life in top-grade cricket. It will help them mature not only as cricketers but as individuals also. Playing the final will be an experience they wouldn't have had ever in their life. For a sportsperson, nothing can be more pleasurable, nervous, anxious and at the same time satisfying.

In addition to praising his young team-mates, Gambhir emphasises that people should look at scorecards not to see individual performances but assess how a team has done on the whole. He is adamant that winning tournaments is the "bigger picture" and personal achievements only its "byproduct".

"There are two ways of looking at sport, especially cricket. One is you look at the scoreboard and you see who has picked up five wickets or who has scored a hundred. But there's a lot the guy at the other end is contributing. I always maintain whatever be the format - T20s, one-dayers or Test matches - it's the bowlers who win you matches. The batsmen set things up but it's the bowlers who win you games. I won't say that it's only the spinners, it's also the guy who is bowling at the other end, whether he's a fast bowler or a part-time spinner, who has ensured the pressure that has been exerted from one end continues at the other end as well."

Delhi will face first-time finalists Vidarbha and though we will all have to wait a week for the result, Gambhir hopes this season will be remembered for him and his team-mates giving their "200%".

"I would want people to think that the players tried their best," he says. "For me that is the key. If you try your best, whatever the results may be, that is irrelevant. But if you give your 200%, that's what counts."