The Telegraph
Monday , June 2 , 2014
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Pandey a braveheart, heartbreak for KXIP

Manish Pandey, in Bangalore, on Sunday. A Telegraph picture

Bangalore: For most part of the Kolkata Knight Riders’ innings, Shah Rukh Khan remained seated in the stands. There was only the restraint clapping for the occasional boundary or the blowing of kisses when the TV camera focused on him.

There was no leaning against the railing perilously or some extravagant show of emotion. It seemed like the principal owner had been tied down by some quirk superstition. Perhaps the slow-building tension in a match of fluctuating fortunes had taken its toll.

Only after Piyush Chawla had hit the winning runs did Shah Rukh bask in the glory. Standing on the parapet, he was clapping incessantly, gyrating, whirling and whistling even as Chawla’s victory run across the Chinnaswamy had been halted by the teammates’ enthusiasm in his moment of glory.

If Yusuf Pathan’s 36 off 22 balls with four sixes had reaffirmed the Knight Riders’ belief after Gautam Gambhir’s cameo, it was Manish Pandey who made sure there were no barriers in their chase of 200 with an innings of controlled aggression.

In many ways, the final was a celebration of resolute batting by the Indian youngsters. If Wriddhiman Saha had made a mockery of the Knight Riders bowling with his maiden IPL century, 115 not out off 55 balls, Pandey proved equal to the task during his 94 off 50 deliveries.

Pandey has been one of the silent performers of Knight Riders’ campaign. He has chipped in with useful contributions in almost every match while never sharing the limelight. He has been the pillar at No.3 who has held the innings together. The seven boundaries and six sixes were testimony to his character and talent. Even Orange Cap holder Robin Uthappa’s first-over departure had no impact because of Pandey’s resilience.

Pandey’s inclination to hit against the turn finally brought about his downfall in the 17th over. Knight Riders needed 15 off the last two overs. Mitchell Johnson dismissed Suryakumar Yadav off the second ball in the 19th over to tilt the scales in Kings XI’s favour. But Chawla thrashed a six off the last ball to bring it down to five off six balls.

Parvinder Awana’s third ball was swung behind point for a boundary by Chawla to spark off wild celebrations. The three-wicket victory was the Knight Riders’ second after their maiden title in 2012.

Gautam Gambhir congratulates Wriddhiman Saha, in Bangalore, on Sunday

If bowling has been the Knight Riders’ strength, the Kings XI batsmen decided to bury the myth with a calculated assault that left everyone stunned. Throwing caution and reputation to the winds, Manan Vohra and Wriddhiman launched a miraculous attack that could only have been considered a dream till a few hours earlier.

Their 129-run partnership off 73 balls altered equations after the early dismissals of Virender Sehwag and George Bailey. Even seasoned campaigners like Morne Morkel and Sunil Narine were reduced to mere mortals. While Narine gave away only two runs in his opening over, the next three yielded 44 and proved to be the most expensive among the Knights.

If Vohra had shown the way in the initial stages, it was Wriddhiman who proved that he’s cut out for bigger deeds. He treated the bowlers with disdain — ten boundaries and eight sixes were ample evidence of the authority he enjoyed.

Wriddhiman’s wicketkeeping skills have never been in doubt, but have always been considered as a batsman who can chip in with useful contributions. Someone with sound technique alright, but not cut out for the T20 cricket, has been the common refrain.

That he hasn’t had much success for Bengal even in the domestic T20 circuit for the Syed Mushatq Ali Trophy only reaffirmed the view.

Perhaps the stage spurred him on for bigger achievements. If the hooked six off Morkel over fine leg will stand out in memory, there was the pull over mid-wicket and the upper cut for variety.

Having survived on 60 when Narine dropped a caught and bowled chance, Wriddhiman ensured that the momentum wasn’t lost. The Knight Riders probably planned for the Virender Sehwags and the Glenn Maxwells while not considering Wriddhiman much of a threat.

The assault took them by surprise as Gambhir didn’t have an alternate plan in store. As Wriddhiman’s astonishing innings nearly made the difference between winning and losing, the Knight Riders could watch in dismay.

Vohra’s 67 off 52 balls paled in comparison. He has prospered in the company of Sehwag in this IPL and batted with immense responsibility.

He was though lucky to have survived a stumping call off Narine on 62 after the TV umpire ruled that the ball had been collected in front of the wicket.

That didn’t make much of a difference though. But Kings XI had nothing to rue about as the Wriddhiman show was far from over then. That it proved to be inadequate is another story.