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Knights & the night of dreams

Bangalore: Rafael Nadal’s locker room rituals before a big match begin by taking a shower in freezing cold water 45 minutes before the start. “It’s the point before the point of no return… I enter a space in which I feel my power and resilience grow,” says the Spaniard.

For Wayne Rooney, the preparations begin by asking the club’s kit man in what colours the team will be attired the next day. He visualises the forensic details for one purpose: to enhance the accuracy of psychological preparation.

Gautam Gambhir isn’t superstitious and doesn’t follow any such rituals but has already changed his jersey number thrice in IPL VII. You wouldn’t blame him if he decides to stick to his lucky number going into the final on Sunday.

For him and the Kolkata Knight Riders it is about “absorbing pressure” and “making an impact”. The record eight wins in a row have been intimidating and they would certainly aim to stretch it into the final lap against Kings XI Punjab.

The presence of “game changers”, as Gambhir would like to call it, has been Knight Riders’ biggest asset. Be it a Shakib-al Hasan or a Yusuf Pathan, the freedom to express themselves have been the key to their success.

Bold decisions when it comes to selection issues and getting the team combination right have also played its part. How else would one describe the move to bench a legend like Jacques Kallis? Also out of favour has been the hero of the 2012 final, Manvinder Singh Bisla.

Does having Kings XI as opponents help Knight Riders breathe easy in quest for their second title?

The Knight Riders already have a 2-1 edge over George Bailey’s men this season while enjoying an 8-6 overall advantage.

There was a bit of worry for both teams after a downpour late in the evening left the stadium with puddles in the outfield. There’s forecast for rain on Sunday, and provision for a reserve day.

Despite their consistent batting performance, Kings XI have never managed to cross the 150-run mark in their three meetings against Knight Riders. But Virender Sehwag’s demolition of the Chennai Super Kings is sure to prod them to sit up and take notice afresh.

Did many care about the Sehwag factor? He was considered a threat but had been overshadowed by the presence of Glenn Maxwell and David Miller. His 72 off 50 balls in Cuttack against Knight Riders was the highest till the carnage in Qualifier 2 at the Wankhede.

If the Morne Morkels and the Sunil Narines have managed to tame the Kings XI so far, they face a tougher test at the Chinnaswamy since batsmen love the even bounce and short boundaries.

For Narine, the challenge will be different after having preferred franchise over country. The Knight Riders captain came out in his support on Saturday saying he would have done the same had he been in his position. The country versus franchise debate is sure to rage on.

Be it chasing or setting targets, Knight Riders haven’t faltered. They won six games in a row chasing while being consistent in setting targets. Don’t forget they will miss the raucous Eden Gardens though principal owner Shah Rukh Khan and his band have promised to be present.

For the record, no team that have topped the league has gone on to win the title since Rajasthan Royals in the inaugural season. Will Preity Zinta’s men come out first-time lucky or will it be ‘ab ki baar, KKR’!

TEAMS

Kolkata Knight Riders (likely): Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan, Shakib-al Hasan, Ryan ten Doeschate, Suryakumar Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Morne Morkel, Umesh Yadav, Sunil Narine.

Kings XI Punjab (likely): Virender Sehwag, Manan Vohra, Glenn Maxwell, David Miller, George Bailey, Wriddhiman Saha, Akshar Patel, Mitchell Johnson, Rishi Dhawan, Sandeep Sharma, Parvinder Awana.

Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena, Bruce Oxenford.

Match Referee: Roshan Mahanama.

Match starts: 8 pm.