Kolkata Knight Riders captain Gautam Gambhir during the match against Delhi DareDevils, in Pune, on Tuesday.
Calcutta: Shah Rukh Khan not only pinched himself to believe that the Kolkata Knight Riders had made the IPL’s final for the first time, but even asked a couple of the mandarins to give it in writing!
“Abhi yakeen nahin ho raha,” the franchise’s principal owner confessed on Tuesday night, shortly after he’d somersaulted, emotionally hugged and lifted his players individually. They’d done likewise.
A few hours earlier, Sourav Ganguly had advised “hyper” Shah Rukh to “lie low for a few months.” But there was no stopping him at the Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium, off the Pune-Mumbai Expressway.
The franchise, after all, is “dil ke kareeb.”
Shah Rukh won’t have to keep pinching himself as the Knights have justified the ‘Team to Watch’ label given to them this season.
The return of Brendon McCullum (after a year with Kochi) and the inspired signing of Sunil Narine have made a big difference. As also the captaincy and form of Gautam Gambhir and the rapport he has struck with coach Trevor Bayliss.
Bayliss, incidentally, is a match away from winning his second T20 title of the year. He’d been the coach when the Sydney Sixers won the KFC Big Bash League in January.
The impression may be otherwise, but T20 isn’t just about slam-bang cricket. One has to strategise and there’s definitely plenty of place for tactics.
Clearly, the Knights outsmarted the Delhi DareDevils both on the field and in the mind. Gambhir and Bayliss deserve kudos of the very highest order.
Virender Sehwag and Eric Simons, on the other hand, took some bizarre decisions.
To start with, they got the XI wrong, keeping faith in three quicks and Irfan Pathan, even though the spinners had been having quite a ball at the venue.
Then, the 20th over wasn’t given to Purple Cap-holder Morne Morkel, but to the inexperienced Varun Aaron. MoM Yusuf Pathan and Laxmi Ratan Shukla tonked him for 21, three more than the margin of the DareDevils’ defeat.
Worse was to follow: New Zealand captain Ross Taylor was sent at, believe it or not, No.7, after the out-of-depth Venugopal Raos had made a mess of the chase.
The DareDevils could still make the final, if they get past the winner of Wednesday’s Eliminator (in Bangalore), but they’ve got too much work to do.
One lesson which must not be forgotten is that it doesn’t pay to have a top-heavy batting line-up.
Significantly, days after Gambhir told The Telegraph that the Knights’ philosophy was to “recognise even the small contributions,” more than one player stood up to be counted in the franchise’s biggest match.
From Laxmi Ratan Shukla (24 not out from 11) to Iqbal Abdulla (who took the most prized wicket of Mahela Jayawardene), there was desperation to be recognised.
Shukla had only played nine of the Knights’ 16 matches in the league stage and, given the limited opportunities, a well-wisher had advised him to treat every match as his last.
The 31-year-old did just that, capitalising on the opportunity provided by Manoj Tiwary’s injury.
By finishing in the top-two, the Knights earned the right to play at the SRSS, which suits their attack. After that, Gambhir won the toss.
So, half the job was done at the toss itself.
Footnote: David Warner got a poor decision, but the umpiring bit evens out, sooner or later.